Medicine With a mission: What I get back is far greater than what I give

mission2medicine_1.jpg

There is a lot of expertise on the clinical staff at Methodist Health System. But these physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals don't stop caring for others when they leave the hospital. They're going to other parts of the world to be the living, breathing embodiment of our mission to save and improve lives with compassionate, quality health care.

Our Medicine With a Mission blog series shares the inspiring stories of how clinicians on our medical staff are participating in mission trips - whether religiously affiliated or not - and serving in extraordinary ways.

Finding A Purpose Beyond Borders

In Guatemala, 40 percent of the population lives in poverty, making less than $2 a day. And unlike in the United States, even basic medical care is often inaccessible. Medical mission teams help close that gap, bringing necessary healthcare and procedures to families who otherwise would not have access.

Koonsman_Martin.jpgIn 2007, Martin L. Koonsman, MD, FACS, breast surgeon and now president of Methodist Dallas Medical Center, set off on his first mission trip. Encouraged by a fellow physician, a Peruvian who was leading a trip to his native country, Dr. Koonsman packed his bag, joined his colleague and discovered a purpose beyond borders. His first surgical mission left an impression, and now overseas medical missions are an annual event for Dr. Koonsman.

Currently working with the organization Faith in Practice, Dr. Koonsman has spent the last four years traveling to Guatemala helping those less fortunate and in need of medical care.

"These trips are an amazing experience," he said. "If you have a desire to provide healthcare to those who have little to no access, this is what you do."

Organizing A Mission Trip

Operationally, surgery in a foreign country is a challenge, to say the least. The traveling surgical team needs access to supplies and a reliable "on-ground" team that has the structure in place to screen and care for patients before and after surgery. Having those elements is place is one of the reasons Dr. Koonsman enjoys working with an organization like Faith in Practice, which has had a presence in Guatemala for more than 20 years.

Organizing medical missions, and in this case a surgical mission, takes knowledge, experience, coordination, and patience. Before Dr. Koonsman and the team arrive in Antigua each year, onsite physicians with Faith in Practice work within the villages, managing chronic issues and screening patients. Those identified as needing surgery are then sent to Antigua to Casa de Fey, a medical halfway house where they stay before and after surgery. The surgical rooms may not be as technologically advanced, but Faith in Practice makes sure that the quality in care and safety practices meet the same safety standards as in the United States.

As soon as the surgical mission team arrives Saturday, they immediately get to work. By Sunday, operating rooms are set up, and the surgery schedule is set. In one week, Dr. Koonsman and a team of fellow surgeons, pharmacists, nurses, anesthesiologists, and medical technicians will see up to 100 cases. The surgical teams will operate from Monday to Thursday, seeing up to six cases a day, including tonsillectomies, cleft palate repairs, laparoscopic procedures and more. "We do more operations during mission trips than we do here typically," Dr. Koonsman explained.

Leaving a Lasting Impact

For many patients, this is their only opportunity to get the medical care they so desperately need. And while they have nothing financially to give in return, it's the gratitude and personal thanks that means the most and leaves a lasting impact.

"You see in the eyes of our patients, those that we help, the gratitude," Dr. Koonsman says. "When they give you blessings, it melts your heart.

"Bigger than that, you gain an appreciation for each and every day. When you interact with these people, the gratitude they have really hits home and connects you to the reason you went into healthcare. What I receive is far greater than what I give."

Providers at Methodist live out our mission here in North Texas as well. To help bring vital services to Methodist, visit the Methodist Health System Foundation or the Methodist Richardson Medical Center Foundation.