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10 Questions to Ask Before Sending a Medical Missions Team (Part 2)

May 04, 2017


(Blog post at
by Mardi Steere

Reprinted by permission of the author
(This is Questions #6-10 – click here to go to questions #1-5)

6.  Why do your medical team members want to come?
Is it to change the village / town/ region /world? Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen on a two-week trip. Set realistic expectations.

Is it to challenge, inspire, and broaden your team members’ worldview? Well, that’s more possible. In that case, don’t come and set up a temporary clinic – instead, have them work alongside a local nurse, or local pharmacist, or visit a local community health program or hospital – mostly to learn what is already happening, so that next time they can go back with a focused idea of how their training and expertise may be able to contribute in a capacity-building, sustainable fashion.

Is it to relieve and encourage a long-term nurse or doctor who is tired, or visiting family, or attending further education? Well, that is really helpful – see below.

Is it because they want to go on safari and if it’s a “missions trip” people will give them money, and this will be the 5th country on their bucket list?  Sorry to be blunt, but that’s a waste of everyone’s time and resources and I’d prefer that you donate your money to a really good cause instead.  There are numerous posts and articles on some of the dangers of “volun-tourism”, “orphanage tourism” or “poverty porn”, and they’re writing from experience.

7.  Are you sending your team because the people you are visiting have nothing, and you are planning on filling (what you see as) an “empty glass” with your genius and expertise?  Or is your team going because there is a little or a lot that is already happening that you can help build upon it at their request?
Does the local doctor you are going to help in that poor 30-bed hospital in Haiti need you to stand over him telling him what he is doing wrong and how he could do it better – the way you do in the West – or does he want encouragement?

Does he know what to do, but just not have access to a supply chain of bone nails and would love you to come and bring difficult-to-find supplies and upskill him on difficult arm fractures around the joint?

Instead of assisting his surgeries, does he want you to teach his junior staff the basics of early trauma management and supervise them doing some cases in the operating theatre while he takes the 5 days you are there to write up the incredible research paper he hasn’t had time to do as he is overwhelmed every day with patients?

Don’t assume that you know everything and they know nothing.  Assume you will learn from the people you’re going to help, even as you help support, upskill and equip them.

8.  Have you asked a lot of questions before you come? Are you really listening to the responses before you do a lot of planning?
Ask – what do you have?  What people should I bring – do you need a surgeon or a midwife or a lab tech?  If not, can one of them come anyway and just follow you around to learn more about what you are doing every day so that we can support and encourage even after we go back home?

What supplies should I bring?  If I ship stuff to you in advance or bring it in my luggage, will your country’s Customs charge a fee and if so how much so I can raise the funds to cover that for you?

If it’s a machine, can someone fix it for you when it (inevitably) breaks and are parts replaceable – or should I look for a lower tech solution?

Remember that when you come, people often are truly grateful for your encouragement and support – and they may say yes just to be polite.  If you have just spent 30 minutes on Skype enthusiastically expounding on the team and equipment you think they need, they may not want to offend you by saying no.  Often we need your help, encouragement and suitcases full of supplies, and may find it hard to gently respond to your excited, fully-formed plans with “That sounds interesting – but it’s not what we need right now”, especially if you are a financial supporter.

I’m just being honest.  So if you ask, and listen, and then plan, and hone your plan with us, it makes it easier and better for everyone.

9.  Have you researched local licensing, visa and volunteer work requirements?
This question is not asked enough.  If you were sending a medical missions team from the US to an Aboriginal community in Australia, what would you do to ensure you had the right visas and licensure needed for a visiting nurse, doctor or optometrist to practice within the confines of the law in another country?

This is important – even in southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, there are medical boards regulating practice.  Even resource-poor countries care about their citizens and have standards – find out what they are.  Your pastor friend in Thailand may not know the answer to that question fully, so you should try to find a long term medical professional and government liaison in that country if you are sending medical people on a team.

In Kenya, for example, to visit and help people here you need two things: a medical or nursing license, obtained in advance, as well as a short term “special pass” work permit (costing around $400 all up).  It will take 3 months to get those things.  So plan well in advance.  Don’t get angry at the “bureaucratic red tape” or start “praying against the resistance” you’re encountering – it’s possible it may be your lack of planning.

10.  Do you have a long term relationship in mind, or is this just a 7-day stand?
The short-term medical folks that make the biggest difference here are those that come from a couple of weeks to 3 months, every year.  They get to know the system, the illnesses, the people.  Or those that come one time for 2-4 weeks, but after they go home they keep in touch over email and Facebook and join a long-term volunteer’s partnership team with finance, prayer and encouragement, or sponsor a local doctor through specialty training, or donate regularly to one of the funds that helps keep our hospital afloat.

Those are some of my thoughts from Kijabe Hospital in Kenya.  I love the encouragement of short-term visitors, and I have worked with some incredible, selfless people whose approach has included most of the questions I’ve asked above.  And their impact has been measurable.

There is so much need, and so much help that you can provide by partnering with people in an intentional and thoughtful way.  Thanks to all of you that have blessed me and our hospital in the last 4 years by doing just that, and for those of you who will come to places just like ours.
– M.

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