There’s certainly no wrong way to conduct a medical mission trip for nurses, but there are definitely ways of making a trip much more beneficial to (and respectful of) the communities that the trip is serving. Often referred to as “Transcultural Nurses,” there are now educational programs created specifically for nurses who are planning on having their careers spent abroad, primarily on mission trips. There are even many other opportunities for nurses and people alike to fund their mission trips of any kind, for example, look into a webpage such as https://www.gofundme.com/c/fundraising-ideas/mission-trips to look for other ideas to raise money for travelling on mission trips. Though an education as a transcultural nurse is not essential to be a participant (in most cases), it tends to serve the mission extremely well when at least one of these individuals are in attendance.
Here is how those nurses learn and enact their culturally sensitive nursing practices.
Transcultural nurses, and any nurses who wish to do the trade during a mission trip, should aim to become RNs and also pass the NCLEX tests just as nurses who plan to remain stateside do. Certification for transcultural nursing is still considered “voluntary,” though a decent percentage of medical-only mission trips do require it. An organization called the Transcultural Nursing Society offers programs for basic and advanced certification of aspiring transcultural nurses.
It is important to note that “mission” trips and “missionary” trips are, indeed different, so don’t think that you need to be religious to get involved in something like this. A large percentage of people involved in medical mission trips actually aim to keep them as “strictly medical” as possible. This is a great mindset when preparing for your trip. Many looking to pursue a career in travel nursing learn many other tips and trades that help them maximize their time in foreign countries, just as transcultural nurses do.
A good hospital metaphor when undertaking medical missions is “don’t just put a bandage on an open wound.” With this in mind, many culturally sensitive practices start with leaving a lasting change in the communities you’re heading to. Learning about the needs of a given area, both medically and beyond, is a good start and you can mentally prepare to do more than just what your boss tells you to do. Languages and local medical terminology can be difficult to learn, but even if you’re not fluent in a local language, it’s easier now more than ever to translate, and asking the locals what they need can give you even more information than research from afar accomplishes.
Shedding focus is also important. When friends ask about “your” experience, tell them more about the people who live there’s day to day experiences. The local nurses are great examples, as they continue the work long after the missions depart (think “lasting change” again).
All of the good that currently exists regarding medical mission trips is only improving, with education being more widely available, participation being very high, technologies increasing for help abroad, and procedures and medications also becoming better and better. It’s a noble field that will continue to need a workforce, and listening to people from that workforce is the best way to ensure your own medical missions serve the locals as best as they can!