The Global Health Missions Conference is an annual gathering of 2,000+ health professionals in Louisville, Kentucky. I’ve gone three times since the beginning of medical school and each time I came out more equipped and inspired for international medical missions!
This is different than a general missions conference because this gathering focuses on health care. I’ve seen doctors, nurses, PAs, dentists, medical technicians, public health workers, and even quite a few medical students from around the nation attend this conference!
What I did at the conference
- Main plenary sessions featuring many international speakers sharing their real experiences providing health care abroad
- Breakout sessions and seminars that practically help you find a missionary agency to join, prepare you to leave, educate you about what you will see or do abroad, and how to keep your profession abroad sustainable
- Many exhibition booths from missionary agencies who will send you, residency programs that feature global health electives and tracks, hospitals with international affiliations, and programs that set-up short-term missions trips for health professionals
What I learned at the conference
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” (Lao Tzu). This Chinese proverb was one of many themes that I learned are essential to practically implement in international health care. Themes and their practical implications I learned over the years are:
- Helping can hurt. Setting up a clinic in the middle of a jungle is not the best way to provide health care! Buildings and equipment end up not being used due to lack of knowledge and people end up being dependent on foreign help. While there will always be a need for acute aid and doctors traveling to a place for 1-2 weeks to treat immediate health needs, there needs to be long-term sustainability. We need to supplement acute aid responsibly and in a way that empowers nationals in their health care.
- There are responsible, sustainable methods to improve health care abroad. Creative methods I have seen are: teaching skills and practical health care knowledge to the general public, creating hospitals or programs to train competent physicians (ie residency), and aiding educational or government nationals with expertise about health care policy or law.
- Serving people requires humility. Medicine is only medicine! Health care is only one element of a person’s needs. As I learn more in my clerkships here and my experiences abroad, I am finding that patients need the help of social workers, counselors, family advisors, lawyers, and more. Sometimes a patient may ask you to be more than a doctor: to be a good listener, to be a social advocate, to be a reconciler, or to be a friend. This requires humility and courage to step out of your comfort zone!
The conference was good for me because it helped me practically see how a doctor from the United States could make an impact on health care around the world. If you Christian, this conference is helpful because it is structured around the bible and Jesus’s teachings to love others by serving them with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.