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Medical Mission Trips Motivate Nurses and Give Back to Communities

Rebecca Hendren, for HealthLeaders Media, October 27, 2009

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When employees in any profession are asked what motivates them, time and again the things that top the list are interesting work, appreciation from managers, and recognition that their efforts matter. Salary is important, of course, but it doesn't motivate people to show up every day and give their heart and soul to their work.

Opportunities for giving back to the communities where they live and helping people in need both locally and around the globe are the types of things employees can put their heart and soul into, and these initiatives also have a healthy influence on an organization's standing in the community.

Many healthcare organizations tie volunteerism and other aspects of giving back to communities into their mission and values statements, and encourage employees to become involved in such endeavors.

And some organizations are even tying such efforts to nurses' professional development. Cox Health in Springfield, MO, encourages staff to use community work as part of professional development—or clinical ladder—programs for bedside nurses.

Bonnie Clair, MSN, RN, retention project manager at Cox Health, says that including community outreach projects as evidence for moving up the clinical ladder, "acknowledges efforts to expand [nurses'] professionalism, expand their skill base, and expand their perspective."

She adds that all of these occur when nurses take medical mission trips. These can happen on a local and national level, such as to underserved local communities or in response to disasters like Hurricane Katrina. And they can also be international efforts, such as involvement with charity work overseas.

Clair went on a medical mission trip to Haiti for a week in March and it was seven days she'll never forget. In the span of a week, Clair and a group of 25 other healthcare professionals saw 2,196 patients and gave out 6,500 prescriptions. The dentist saw more than 200 patients and pulled 205 teeth.

Clair traveled with a medical team from Hand of Hope, a Christian organization that sends teams across the globe to provide medical care in places where modern healthcare rarely reaches. It also provides services such as creating safe sources of drinking water and operating children's homes.

Clair encountered a different world in Haiti. "So much of the disease they have is completely preventable," she says. "There were animal feces all over the ground; most of the kids had bare feet, and that's how they pick up hookworms and parasites. In addition to the lack of nutrition, worms cause tremendous malnutrition and anemia. In a region where malnutrition is already ravaging people, this is catastrophic. And to know its just basic hygiene principles that could prevent it is an almost overpowering realization. It's like walking into a National Geographic picture. It was truly overwhelming."

Clair spent her first day on the medical mission bagging medications the team had brought with them into individual prescriptions, and the next day traveled into the mountains to facilitate a mobile clinic. After that, the team stayed at the children's home funded by Hand of Hope, and people traveled from around the countryside and mountains to reach them. She says people walked for hours, or even days, to reach the clinic, which they heard about through solar powered radios.

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