So, I’m a part of the professional medical fraternity Phi Delta Epsilon on campus. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the last chapter meeting, but a friend of mine mentioned that there was a topic discussed that might be of interest. There were two girls who presented their experiences on a medical mission that they went on with a program called Blanca’s House.
As the topic of medical voluntourism was discussed to a great extent throughout the semester, I decided to do some research to see if this program would also be categorized as such. Like many other volunteer programs out there, the program aims to bring healthcare to areas where it is not as readily available to the public. The last sentence of their “About Us” ends with “All our team members are volunteers, paying for their own travel expenses and donating their time and expertise for every mission” which raised my guard a little bit. I was aware that the articles we read stated the extreme cases of volunteers who were not qualified to perform such medical procedures, but I still became wary and decided to do some further research on the logistics of the program before making any further judgments.
Looking into the website, it actually has a page that lists the responsibilities of the participating volunteers. They have separate descriptions for medical/surgical volunteers, dental volunteers, non-medical volunteers, etc. I was particularly interested in the non-medical and the junior volunteers and what responsibilities they will hold. It seems the most interaction they would get with the patients is either transporting/escorting them or translating. With this, I was a little relieved at the fact that the only individuals who will be held responsible for the patients’ health will be the actual health professionals. However, I then saw on the front page of the site a description of their involvement with junior volunteers and that they offer a “unique opportunity to introduce young people…to medicine…where they volunteer and observe in and out of the operating rooms,” which brought my guard back up. I went back to the initial description of what Junior Volunteers are held responsible for, and here it was clarified that these volunteers simply OBSERVE what occurs in the operating rooms, no participation is involved. As I began to reread some of the descriptions, I found something else I wasn’t sure I was too happy about. Looking underneath the “Medical Students And Residents,” one of the opportunities available to such students is that they’re allowed to “practice their clinical and surgical skills.” Although I acknowledge these individuals have some medical knowledge, it makes me wonder if it is enough for them to participate in such activities such as surgery. It raises the question of whether the year of medical student matters in order to allow them to participate in such practice. I say this because I’m sure no one would trust a medical student with a kidney transplant if he or she has only been in medical school for a semester.
Now that the class has exposed me to the possible consequences that can come out of the involvement of non-professional individuals in medical procedures, it has gotten me to thoroughly check the credibility of such programs instead of just taking them for face value like I used to. I say this because just last year, I was interested in participating in a shadowing program called the Atlantis Project. This program, however, focuses more on the aspect of allowing students to shadow doctors in other countries rather than volunteering, but I say this to serve as an example of how I was ready to participate in such a program without further research about what exactly I would be doing at such countries other than shadowing doctors and possibly exploring for fun. As Maddie stated in her concluding sentence of her blog post, I can really see the applicability of our final project to decisions we as students can make outside of the class. Even with a little more research, we can find out a little more about what we get involved with and consider the possible consequences.