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  • Donald R. Laub, M.D.

Values of global health volunteers

Humanitarian is an extension of the concept of service. Humanitarianism is service without the involvement of money. Service is a word used in government as a job for the benefit of the whole rather than the individual, i.e. congressman, secretary of state, or President. Service is a word used in education and in America implying that all people are created equal in the secular sense.


Why humanitarian?

A certain percentage of humans are happy when they make other people happy. Their happiness is concerned primarily with the other person, and their own happiness is secondary to that. The idea that we have a built-in feeling that we should help others is inherit in our DNA as a social animal—Humanitarian is in our DNA.

The social concept of humanitarianism seems to be very strong in Central Europe. In that area, it is the thing to do. This concept continues in the immigrants to the U.S. In the Midwest part of the U.S., helping others is the thing to do.


Students

The most important task of DNA is to perpetuate itself. Providing for succession is our most important task. Students are the ultimate vehicle for sustainability. Our values should not last 10 years or a lifetime, but rather 150 years. “If you plan for one year, plant rice. If you plan for ten years, plant fruit trees. If you plan for 100 years, educate the people” --K’ung F-Tzu, 500 BC.

At this point in time we favor early student competency rather than eventual credentialing. Early competency however is the first step in recognizing competency with a certificate. The certificate assures safety and efficacy. Quality of the training produces early competency without waiting for the certificate.

One of the best examples is the physician’s assistant program. The certificate issued by the state of California provided the competent medical corpsman trained in the Vietnam conflict with the ability to earn some money in civilian life.


Actual opportunities is the act of helping others (the actual doing of the work) provides the rich peak experience a greater compensation than the tangible income.


Interacting with a single person, in a one-on-one contact, such as in surgical cleft-lip repair or removal of the gallbladder with high technology in the jungle, has the ability to help an entire nation. The one recipient of your beneficence creates happiness in the other person and in her family and in their community and in their country. The family then works together, the community initiates a larger project and the goodwill produces change in the entire nation. The miraculous cure in one person demonstrates to the native community that Western medicine is acceptable. The native community more easily favors the introduction of other public health policies such as birth control, nutrition, hygiene, and vaccination.


Surgical sciences Paul Farmer (2008) wrote, “In Africa, surgery may be thought of as the neglected stepchild of global public health. There are fewer physicians per population on this continent than on any other; surgeons are rarer still, and almost all of them work in the urban enclaves of what remains a rural region. The story is the same in the poorer parts of Asia and Latin America (with a few exceptions, such as Cuba). Although disease treatable by surgery remains a ranking killer of the world’s poor, major financers of public health have shown that they do not regard surgical disease as a priority even though, for example, more than 500,000 women die each year in childbirth; these deaths are largely attributable to an absence of surgical services and other means of stopping post-partum hemorrhage.”

The need for surgical sciences compete with the need for prioritization of resources toward AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. For example, trauma statistics have grown to the point of making trauma the fourth world challenge (Catherine Devries).


International the sheer joy of meeting another person in a completely new country to you who has such similarities to you is worth the trip. Emphasizing the similarities produces a commonality that binds you as a long term friend. And to know that that person might be a life long friend and important to your work, family, and your acquaintances is actually awesome. The feeling is like discovering another planet is similar to you and your experiences. "No man is an island; no country is an island." We find that we can help them, but that they help us more. What we learn from the other culture is usually in a different area from what motivated us to make the trip. The amount we can learn from another culture is not only humbling but exciting.


The Business-Medicine Synergy is wanting in the United States. This represents an opportunity to contribute to the solution of one of the major problems besetting our society. We find that almost all physicians are happy in international work, whereas 70% of physicians working domestically are unhappy and would not recommend their own profession to those selecting new careers. Part of the answer to the dilemma is that the tangible income in international work is replaced with psychic income. The synergy may become apparent in international humanitarian surgical student opportunities.

Although we have not found the answer to the complexities inherent in this problem, we feel the solution will be found in this course.

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