Global Medical Missions Can Make You a Better Doctor

3 Surprising Lessons U.S. Medicine Can Learn From Around The World, by Robert Pearl, M.D. Forbes Magazine, February 12, 2024.

In this article, Dr. Robert Pearl recounts his experiences volunteering on medical missions around the globe, providing reconstructive surgery for children. He argues these experiences offer valuable lessons that could improve American healthcare. Specifically, he highlights three key takeaways.

“One World” by Jennifer Lamb, PMHNP.

First, volunteering on demanding missions reinvigorates clinicians by reminding them of medicine’s core purpose — to heal others. Pearl contends that the American system’s focus on finances and administration obscures this purpose, contributing to high rates of doctor burnout. He advocates reforming payment models so doctors can focus on patient outcomes rather than quantity of services.

Second, despite assumptions of superiority, American doctors can learn from their global peers. Pearl describes remarkably skilled physicians achieving great outcomes under very constrained resources. He highlights how high patient volumes enable foreign doctors to hone their surgical skills. Pearl argues that humility and openness to learning from abroad could raise US standards.

Third, comparatively lavish US spending doesn’t translate into good access and outcomes. Pearl notes affordability issues and huge disparities between rich and poor patients globally. Yet rankings show the US healthcare system performs poorly despite far greater wealth. He concludes the core problem is misplaced priorities and lack of leadership and innovation.

In summary, Pearl believes global medical mission experiences offer insights that could drive transformation of American healthcare. By learning from resourceful foreign doctors and systems, the US can enhance outcomes, reduce burnout and expand access.

About the Author

Dr. Pearl wrote Mistreated: Why We Think We’re Getting Good Healthcare—And Why We’re Usually Wrong and, most recently, Uncaring: How the Culture of Medicine Kills Doctors & Patients, with all profits going to Doctors Without Borders. He is a board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon, a clinical professor of surgery at Stanford University, and serves on the faculty of the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

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