A friend of mine was presenting at my hospital's pediatrics department meeting back in 2013. I became more and more invested in his presentation as each slide moved to the next, seeing how the inhabitants in remote Honduran villages endured hardships. The mountainous hillside prevented them from having reasonable access to medical care, making the mobile medical clinics critical for the villagers to survive.
I was moved. Despite their hardships, the faces of these children showing gratitude that someone was able to help them and provide care, love, and devotion struck me. I knew at that point I was going to join my friend on his next trip.
My first medical mission transformed me. I discovered that delivering medical care without expectation of payment instilled joy in me and actually made me spiritually rich. The service of medical missions helped me realign myself with my original reason for becoming a physician—to help others and do the right thing. And that was it. I was hooked.
Medical missions can provide a spark for clinicians looking for a new inspiration. The evolution from medical student to resident to attending can be shocking to your system. The business of medicine and the corporatization of health care delivery tend to minimize a physician's expertise, or at least it feels that way. The reality is that we are healers, and we have an impact whether we are treating people in the hallway of our community ED or in a war-torn Kurdish region of Iraq.
In 2015, I started Health-e-Charity, a nonprofit devoted to building medical mission teams and sending them to remote locations to help those in need. In addition to our annual Honduras mission trips, we sent teams to Mexico in 2016, Ukraine in 2017, India in 2018, and Iraq in 2019. It became clear to me that helping others through medical missions is connecting us globally and blurring the lines of cultural difference.
All One People
Each time I came home from a mission, I had to reconcile the human suffering I witnessed. The lack of clean water and nutritional deficiency in children in Honduras; the frostbitten feet of Ukrainian toddlers wearing flip flops in the January winter; the rows and rows of aluminum sheds housing thousands of Yezidis in the 110° Iraqi heat. And yet the children smiled and appreciated what our missioners were doing to help them in whatever way we could.
With each culture, I started to see commonalities among us all. We are all one people. There are people in all regions of the world who are in need, marginalized by political squabbles, religious differences, and frank ignorance. What I find inspiring are all the amazing people I was able to serve next to in my medical missions, which made me feel like I was doing something right, working alongside others who inspired me, who are my spiritual heroes.
What the world's children have taught me is that human suffering is pervasive and exists in many forms. And treating human suffering can heal our own. This is why a medical missioner often says, “I get much more from serving on a medical mission than the person I treat.”
What I bring with me to each mission is my devotion to serve. What I take back home are my gratitude for the experience and a greater understanding of the human condition. I'm not afraid to connect with my patients in the ED. They sense my intention to care for them and make them better. This is what makes me a better physician.
Dr. Reyesis the vice chief of staff and the assistant medical director of emergency medicine at Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks, CA. He is also a clinical professor in emergency medicine and pediatrics at Olive View/UCLA Medical Center, a health law attorney with Boyce Schaeffer Mainieri, LLP, in Oxnard, CA, and the founder and CEO of Health-e-MedRecord, a patient-centered and emergency physician-designed EHR solution. (www.health-e-medrecord.com.) Follow him on Twitter @carloreyesmdjd, and read his past articles athttp://bit.ly/EMN-Defense.Copyright © 2019 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.