The Role of Humanitarian Missions in Modern Surgical Training

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Surgical trainees have participated in international missions for decades and are now seeking out these experiences in record numbers. Resident participation in humanitarian service has been highly controversial in the academic plastic surgery community, and little evidence exists elucidating the value of these experiences. This report examines the impact of international volunteerism on surgical training.


Twenty-one resident physicians who participated in the inaugural Operation Smile Regan Fellowship were surveyed 1 year after their experiences.


One hundred percent responded that participation in an international surgical mission had an overall positive impact on their lives, and 94.7 percent reported that they had achieved marked personal growth. Results demonstrate significant education in each of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education core competencies and insights into global health and cultural competency. One hundred percent “strongly agreed” that the Regan Fellowship was a quality educational experience, and 94.7 percent deemed the experience a valuable part of their residency training.


Resident physicians are calling for more international health opportunities, and they should be generously supported. A properly structured and proctored experience for surgical residents in international volunteerism is an effective instruction tool in the modern competency-based residency curriculum. These endeavors provide a unique understanding of the global burden of surgical disease, a deeper appreciation for global public health issues, and increased cultural sensitivity. Plastic surgery training programs can contribute mightily to global health and improved resident education by embracing and fostering the development of international humanitarian opportunities. A surgical mission experience should be widely available to plastic surgery residents.

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