To explore the impact of short-term surgical missions (STMs) on medical practice in Guatemala as perceived by Guatemalan and foreign physicians.
Summary Background Data:
STMs send physicians from high-income countries to low and middle-income countries to address unmet surgical needs. Although participation among foreign surgeons has grown, little is known of the impact on the practice of foreign or local physicians.
Using snowball sampling, we interviewed 22 local Guatemalan and 13 visiting foreign physicians regarding their perceptions of the impact of Guatemalan STMs. Interviews were transcribed verbatim, iteratively coded, and analyzed to identify emergent themes. Findings were validated through triangulation and searching for disconfirming evidence.
We identified 2 overarching domains. First, the delivery of surgical care by both Guatemalan and foreign physicians was affected by practice in the STM setting. Differences from usual practice manifested as occasionally inappropriate utilization of skills, management of postoperative complications, the practice of perioperative care versus “pure surgery,” and the effect on patient–physician communication and trust. Second, both groups noted professional and financial implications of participation in the STM.
While Guatemalan physicians reported a net benefit of STMs on their careers, they perceived STMs as an imperfect solution to unmet surgical needs. They described missed opportunities for developing local capacity, for example through education and optimal resource planning. Foreign physicians described costs that were manageable and high personal satisfaction with STM work. STMs could enhance their impact by strengthening working relationships with local physicians and prioritizing sustainable educational efforts.
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