Medical Voluntourism: Weighing the Good with the Bad

Before entering this course, and really even these past two weeks, I had little knowledge on what medical volunteering was. Also, I had no idea how many negatives people find in these medical mission trips. After diving into this subject in class, I haven’t come away with a clear decision on whether I think medical volunteerism is good or bad, but I’ve taken away thoughtful insight from both the articles assigned and group discussions.

In Scientific American’s article “Trouble with Medical Voluntourism”, a number of the negatives people find in this subject are talked on. It talks about students being underprepared and unaware of the necessary treatments for people in these countries. One example is found in the text when it reads “Mary violated obstetrics best practices, doing unnecessary episiotomies (cutting the skin between the vaginal opening and anus to make room for the baby’s head) and pulling breech babies (babies positioned bottom instead of head-first in the birth canal)”. This is an example where there is obviously great danger that can be caused through these medical missions.

In Rafia Zakaria’s article “white tourist’s burden”, a slightly different tone is found, and I tend to agree with this article more than Scientific American’s. It mentions how some people go on these medical assistance trips mostly to talk about it when they get home, rather than feeling a need to actual help the people in sed communities. In response to this, the author of this article believes that Medical Voluntourism is not a lost cause, and can actually be a very good thin, but it is currently a cause that can be improved on greatly. One thing that I learned from our guest speaker in class on Wednesday is that the people of the village they visit in Haiti are thankful to have American friends. I believe that when done properly, medical missions can be a very great thing. I connected what the guest speaker had said to a group conversation I had in class on Monday. Our group had come to a consensus that these people that are in the most severe of situations, do not care where their help comes from, they are just grateful to be receiving help. This is not true with all patients, but something such as a matter of life and death situation, indigenous people would be grateful to receive any help. Overall, I believe that while there are flaws in the system of medical tourism, there is also a lot of good that comes out of it, and a lot more can come if there are stricter rules and guidelines are enforced on people leaving for these trips.


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