‘How to’ Guide for Medical Missions 

  1. Location – Decide on a location. Locations may be selected based on a variety of reasons including: interest, passion, need, opportunity, etc. Locations must always mutually benefit both the givers and receivers of care.
  2. Travel Advisories – Check for travel alerts and warnings in the chosen location. The U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs provides information at: http://travel.state.gov/
  3. Institutional Support – (local, at home, national, and international) Consider contacting both local and national organizations for support and to confirm regulations. Contact the ministry of health and the U.S. embassy in the chosen country.  There may be required governmental forms that need to be completed to receive a letter of invitation.
  4. Local Liaison – Identify and communicate with a liaison in the destination country. It is important to have someone familiar with the local culture and politics to help with planning and logistics.  It is also critical to have someone that has the resources to help resolve unforeseen problems. Consider contacting the institutional support organizations to see if they have information on contact people. The local liaison can also help promote and plan for the mission on the local side.
  5. Goals & Objectives – Do a ‘needs assessment’ and set goals (immediate, short, and long term) and objectives for the trip that meet the needs of the local community and are within the ability and scope of practice of the mission and the attendees. It may be necessary for the initial mission trip to be focused on fact finding, organizing, and planning. Determine what services are going to be provided. It may be determined that public health education and infrastructure strengthening are the most effective and beneficial services to provide and that clinical procedures could better be provided at a later date once a local continuity clinic can be establish. It may be easiest to purchase items in-country with monetary donations raised at home, instead of trying to ship or travel with items donated from home. It is also advisable not to donate money, but instead to work together with the local liaison to purchase needed items.
  6. Available Resources – Determine what resources (personnel, medications, supplies, shelter, etc.) are needed to accomplish the goals and objectives of the trip. Determine what resources are available for the mission. Consider contacting organizations at home and in the chosen country to donated needed supplies. It is important to work with the local liaison to identify nearby stores and pharmacies to purchases more supplies. It is common to realize, while on a mission, that better care could be provided if a specific item or piece of equipment was available. It is also important to learn about the physical surrounding (clinic, community center, church/temple, outside) in which the mission will be conducted. 
  7. Money – Determine costs and create an expense sheet both for the mission and for individual attendees. It’s important to understand the local currency and how to spend (cash, travelers check, credit card) and access money (atm, bank, exchange stations).
  8. Documents – Create and distribute necessary mission documents
  9. Meetings – Organize meetings to accomplish specific goals.
  10. Daily Planner – Create a day by day itinerary for the mission
  11. Personal Items – Create a list of ‘suggested items to pack’ for individuals attending mission. To minimize the weight of personal items and maximize the amount of medical supplies it is important to communicate in order to not bring duplicate items. It is important to consider the local weather and environment, as well as local attire and uniforms. It is also important to consider what supplies for daily life (toiletry, bedding, etc.) will be provided locally and what items need to be brought. 
  12. In Case of Emergency – Develop a plan for emergency circumstances. Obtain the emergency contact information of the local community, local national, and U.S. authorities. Create a list of the attendees’ emergency family contact information. It is important to understand the availability of local phone, cellular signal, and internet access. It is also important to provide to the family of the attendees a manner of contacting the group during the mission (cell phone and email). 
  13. Formal Protocols – Understand local protocols and when necessary develop mission protocols and educate volunteers.
  14. Travel Organizing – Prior to departure register each traveler with the “Smart Traveler Enrollment Program” through the US Department of State (www.travel.state.gov), which will provide your trip information to the U.S. consular office at your destination to better provide emergency and other support.
  15. Mid-trip Education – Determine what educational sessions will be held during the mission. This helps educate the team on what to expect and what interesting cases have been seen during the course of the trip.  It also helps the group discuss efficiency issues and get everyone on the same page to improve healthcare outcomes. CME can provide an opportunity for health professionals to write off portions of the trip, which may help with recruiting supervising professionals.
  16. Post-trip Organizing – Develop a plan for post-trip activities. Missions should provide major benefits to both the community abroad and at home. 

Authors: Paula Anderson-Worts, Kelli Glaser, & Denton Shanks