Evaluating Resident Perspectives on International Humanitarian Missions

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Abstract

Background:

Opportunities for international missions are highly sought after by medical students, residents, and attending plastic surgeons. The educational benefits and ethical considerations of trainees participating in these ventures have been extensively debated. At the time of this writing, many surgical training programs lack the necessary infrastructure or funds to support missions of this sort. Despite the increasing interest, the perceived benefit of international work has not yet been well studied. The authors seek to evaluate residents’ perspectives on the personal and educational benefits of international mission work.

Methods:

A 24-item online questionnaire was designed to measure residents’ perspectives on humanitarian missions. Residents’ perceptions on how participation in these missions may have influenced their career path were also evaluated. This questionnaire was disseminated to the plastic surgery residents in Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) accredited programs in the United States during the 2015 to 2016 academic year.

Results:

Of the 123 responses collected, 49 (40%) indicated that they had participated in international mission work prior to beginning residency, while 74 (60%) had not. Fifty-seven percent (n = 25) of those who had participated agreed that this experience impacted their choice to pursue plastic surgery as a specialty. Twenty-nine (24%) participated in 1 or more missions during residency. The most common type of mission work focused on cleft lip/palate repairs (n = 24) followed by nonsurgical medical relief (n = 18) and general plastics/combined (n = 6). Most respondents reported trips lasting 6 to 8 days (n = 29, 48%), though several reported trips lasting 9 to 10 days (n = 6, 10%) and 11 days or more (n = 16, 27%). When asked about the volume of procedures performed, 32 (65%) reported participating in more than 15 procedures, with 15 (31%) residents reporting participation in 26 procedures or more. When asked to evaluate the educational benefits in light of the 6 core competencies from the ACGME, there was an overwhelmingly positive response.

Conclusions:

Residents perceive international mission experiences to be valuable for professional development as well as an effective tool for surgical education, particularly in the setting of competency-based education goals and these ventures should be supported by training programs. An appropriately planned mission experience can impact the professional and educational development of the trainee.

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