A Political Take on Medical Voluntourism

As we’ve discussed in class, Racism, Medicine, and Literature are all interconnected and are incorporated in other fields of study beyond their boundaries. I’m a Political Science major and right now I’m taking a course on International Relations/Politics. So far in this course, we’ve learned how theorists view interactions between different states (term used for countries) across the globe and how these interactions impact others around them. I guess I’ve experience a ‘both/and’ situation between these two courses, especially when discussing medical volunteering pros and cons. In the International Politics, we’re reading The Essentials of International Relations by Karen A. Mingst and Ivan M. Arreguin-Toft. We’re focusing heavily on theories and the structure of the international system and how interactions with other states impact them for better or worse. The ‘both/and’ connection I made was about how these main theories (Realism, Liberalism, Radicalism, Constructivism, and Feminism) play a role in medical voluntarism. Before I explain how the theories apply to this controversial situation, I’ll define the meaning of each theory so you have background context of International Relations.Realism is centered around the idea that the international system is anarchic, meaning there isn’t one overruling global government (tyrant) that controls each country’s decisions in society and that states (countries) are only concerned with self-preservation (save self by gaining power through wars). How I applied this to medical voluntourism is focusing on the idea of a someone going to a foreign country and gaining this sense of power over the client to benefit their own medical experience. Liberalism focuses on economic interactions being over more importance, rather than national security like realists favor, to improve moral life and progress towards perpetual peace. In terms of medical voluntourism, students view their personal interactions with people from developing countries as beneficial and that the work they do will leave an optimistic impact for the future of that country and its civilians. Radicalism is derived from Marxism (bourgeoisie/rich production owners vs. proletariat/poor exploited workers), which explains how social class is what drives people’s decisions in society and who benefits more from these interactions. From the article by Noelle Sullivan ( https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-trouble-with-medical-voluntourism/ ), the students going on this trip have a mislead idea in their minds that going to do medical work in such underprivileged countries that they’ll be able to organize a way for the citizens to get out of their diseased-ridden rut. By coming from a ‘superpower’ nation like the United States, Americans tend to view other countries of the world as poor and less fortunate, so they think that their lavish background will rub off in these places and that people will be grateful for the aid they’re receiving. Constructivism, in my opinion, is the philosophical theory compared to the others. By that, I mean it represents the idea that nothing really has a meaning until people of power within the states give it meaning. For example, in The Trouble with Medical “Voluntourism,” Sullivan mentions how medical schools tend to favor incoming students with medical background/experience of some sort. My connection was how students who study abroad to add these trips to their resume to set them apart from others kind of validates the idea of how these students didn’t have a meaning or they weren’t special from the rest unless they took the opportunity to experience medicine in some aspect to make themselves unique in the application process. Feminism, in the International Relations world, isn’t as broad as the idea of gender equality. It takes it a step farther by pointing out how women, in what’s considered to be a masculine world, can benefit interactions between states because they’re willing to negotiate and cooperate with others in order to avoid conflict and make the world a place of harmony (maternal vibe). This is a far reach, but my comparison revolved around the statistics mentioning how young women make up the majority of the medical volunteers. From this, I thought that this might be because females are viewed to have more of a maternal trait that allows them to nurture others to better health and a better state of mind. Also, I just assumed that more female volunteers were needed over men in the delivering process of babies and any other procedure related to this.

So, not only is racism prevalent in the medical world, it’s also related to political aspects of society as well. For me, dissecting the structure of race-related incidents by using political theories in real life circumstances, sometimes with indirect intentions, better organizes how to view certain situations and see if there’s a solution. Also, another thing I took note of was the difference between intentions and capabilities of an individual’s experiences on these study abroad trips. To go more in depth with the Realist theory, classical realist theorist Hans J. Morgenthau explains how states view the power they want to gain through experience (intentions) and the power the actually possess (capabilities). I related that to students who study abroad on these medical experience. They view themselves as good people, helping out people less fortunate who need better medical attention. In Medical Apartheid, Washington mentioned Thucydides, who was the “Father of Political Realism” back during the Ancient Greek time period. She quoted him saying, “So little trouble do men take in search for the truth…so readily do they accept whatever comes first to hand” (Washington, 147). Personally, I found it interesting that the author used a political example to justify medical trends as well. This quote can relate to medical voluntourism because the miniscule amount of research students fail to do before they travel to foreign countries shows how they jump right into a situation without first-hand knowledge. Most of the students who actually travel to these countries are inexperienced or they’re not even interested in pursuing a medical career in the first place! Hopefully, more people will educate themselves like we have in class to realize that more damage is being done to these communities rather than a positive outcome of humanitary deeds like so many intended on doing.


Link to International Relations textbook- http://books.wwnorton.com/books/webad.aspx?id=4294990300

**Sidenote: I apologize for the length of this post. I just wanted to make sure people could understand the political perspective I took on this topic.


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