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"I wouldn't do it twice, but I would not 'not' do it once."

- ZDoggMD

Entries in international medicine (2)


Uncommonly Savvy, International Medicine

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness...Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

-Mark Twain

An Uncommon Guest Post by Bjorn Karlman a Swede with an American accent, an Asian childhood, a British adolescence, French and American tertiary education and international work experience spread across three continents. He speaks four languages and blogs at CultureMutt.com.

The Pain

“I hate that my pay and my whole family’s standard of living is tied to my working crazy hours and then being on call. If I stop doing this day in and day out, we’re screwed.”

“How can I escape my self-made prison?”

“Why did I choose to become a physician?”

“I want out!”

We’ve all heard the above sentiments repeated ad nauseum by physicians. The news gets even worse for medical students. There has never been a bleaker time to graduate from med school. The economy is still in the tank. Reimbursement is dropping and is going to go down further with Obamacare. Physicians all over the country are shuttering in their private clinics and downsizing their homes.

“Hell no!”

I asked a physician friend from Hong Kong who practices in Northern California if he planned on encouraging his kids to become doctors. “Hell no!” he exclaimed without a moment’s hesitation. I work in health care philanthropy and am forever hearing the exasperation of the physicians around me and the gloominess they feel about the future of their profession.

Time to reframe

I really think it is time to look at this whole narrative differently. I am not going to promise hope and change because I am not running for office:) But I do think that it is time for some innovative, international, solution-focused tinkering. It was downright refreshing to poke around in the “About” section of Uncommon Student MD and see that this online medical community is “not interested in the useless hand-wringing that populates so much of medicine and that so many physicians have bought in to.”

Savvy, global do-gooding

I write the blog CultureMutt.com and am obsessed with what I call “savvy, global do-gooding”. I am absolutely convinced that a laser-sharp focus on understanding the culture of various people groups through international travel and service lies at the heart of helping to solve our collective problems. I think it could really benefit the American medical community. A broken culture drives the negativity in American medicine. The future craves a more culturally-savvy, international approach to medicine. I realize that this is a broad statement to make.

Allow me to focus it a little by outlining four ways we can put smiles back on some faces through “global” thinking:

1) International Sleuthing Trips - As much as it is true that America still is home to some of the most advanced medicine in the world, other developed countries often have a far better handle on actual health care delivery. To learn efficiencies and to learn how to do more with less, American medicine should not indulge in further navel gazing. It is time to give more thought to other models of health care internationally. We should aggressively fund more international study trips to examine global best practice in everything from direct treatment to preventative care and lifestyle medicine. The goal here is not some flimsy “experience”. It is to learn how to deliver better health care at less cost.... and travel the world!

2) International Socialization - I remember the day one frustrated health care exec told me that she believed the emotional maturation process of future physicians ended the day they began their pre med studies. That is a little harsh. But seriously, I work with a lot of physicians and many are very socially awkward. Long work hours and little play reinforce this problem. International travel and study on the other hand, are incredibly broadening. International service work should be mandatory for med students. Especially, for the really nerdy ones. We love you but it’s a quality of life thing - for them and everyone that has to endure them!

3) Red Carpet Medicine - Medical tourism is on the rise. What am I talking about? Well, Brits are going to France, Western Europeans are going to the former Eastern Bloc, Americans are going to Australia and Mexico, etc. Why? Financial reasons. There are top-notch medical clinics especially set up for this kind of medical tourism. They cost less than home and it’s a hell of a lot more fun to go to southern France for treatment than Jersey. I am talking about boutique medicine. Enterprising med students should be visiting some of these clinics for business concept harvesting purposes. Why not make the transition to high-end boutique-style medicine catering to wealthy clients in the US? My aunt works at just this kind of a practice in the Napa area. Very lucrative and based on a smart business model that doesn’t run physicians ragged. Do your market research! Success in medicine is more than just science. It is art.

4) Humanitarian Trips - Finally, a good humanitarian trip or “medical mission” abroad does wonders for your appreciation of home as well as for your overall perspective. As a young doctor, my mom worked in Nigeria for three years. The pay was horrible, the country unstable and the heat was often unbearable. But she grew so much. When you give of yourself on this level, you often become a much happier person as a result. If the doom and gloom of American medicine start to mess with your inner balance too much, a solid trip to Haiti might be just what the doctor should have ordered:)


You see where I am going with this. We have a long way to go if we are serious about improving the American health care environment. But we can start with being purposeful about creating a more internationally-rounded vision of the medical field. And what better way to do that than to rack up some frequent flyer miles!


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I'm Traveling During My Med School Breaks... What About You?

Doing what you love during a Medical School break can be a lot more productive than you realize. 

So if your medical school is anything like mine, there will be a constant buzz in the air about what to do during the summers and breaks. Who's researching what? and when? and where?! What paper have you gotten published?!!! HAVE YOU SHADOWED DR. AWESOME?! LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION! AHHH! It's like the big, hairy, scary behemoth in the room. Everyone is trying to figure out what everyone else is doing so they can properly gauge just how much overacheivment is necessary during their time off. Well, I've got an idea that I probably shouldn't share because then my secret will be out. DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT.

The concept is pretty straightforward. If everyone in the room is wearing a red sweater because they think that's what you have to do to get into the party, how much do you think you will stand out if you don the red sweater as well? Now let's say that your favorite color is blue and you decide that you don't care that everyone says you're supposed to wear the red sweater, you're jolly well gonna wear the blue one and show up to the party anyway. Do you think you'll stand out?

Sometimes it seems like medical students want so badly to stand out, but at the same time they have this crazy (and somewhat legitimate) fear they won't check all the right boxes.

Cut to my life. Travel is my passion. I never feel more focused, fulfilled, or alive than when I am boarding a train or listening to the pilot welcome me aboard. Travel feels like home to me. Because of this passion I have, I travel every chance I get.

When it came to the end of college I had received my acceptance to medical school, but I was planning on deferring for a year. All the options for deferment I had considered weren't quite what I was looking for, and then a friend casually mentioned a trip he was planning... and what a trip it was. Take a world map and make the center of it the pacific ocean. Then draw a point at the southernmost tip of South America and another at the southwesternmost point in Africa. Then connect them using the longest overland route possible. This gives you some idea of the scope of this trip.

This idea lit me on fire and I could think of little else. I finally knew what it was like to be passionate about what I was doing and it was glorious. I was researching, building a website, looking at the possible routes and where the difficulties would lie. Hours would fly by researching this or that detail of travel and I would barely notice. This was far from my mindset throughout most of my college experience. I was fully engaged in what I was doing and loving every minute of it.

Then came the day to shove off into the grey mist of the unknown and board that plane bound for Patagonia. My friend and I had a rudimentary route worked out and enough money saved to last for a year of ultra-bootstrapped travel (we hoped). Then we started traveling and I realized that I wish I was doing research... just kidding. The year was, I can say without hesitation or reservation, the most interesting and mind expanding year of my life.

I visited 42 countries on 5 continents. I had the opportunity to meet some of the most intensly interesting people on this planet and make friendships with people the world over. I was honored to be able to take in the sites, sounds, smells, and cultures of a great many places, if even for only a few fleeting days. I rode on trains, buses, cars, motorcycles, planes, goat trucks, subways, scooters, bicycles, and just about every other mode of transportation you could envision, in pretty much every condition imaginable. I even had the good fortune to volunteer my time and work with some amazing Doctors at some amazing mission hospitals. It was not always easy or comfortable, but it was an education like no classroom, laboratory, or online course could have given me. And we made it. We traveled from Cape Horn to the Cape of Good hope the long way around. If you care to read about the trip our blog is www.thewholeworldround.com.

I say all that not to brag or gloat, but mearly to point out that you CAN leverage your passion to your benefit and to the amazement of others... DURING MED SCHOOL. I'm trying to be real here. How many conversations do you think I've had about my trip since I got back? Do you think many medical students did a trip like that last year? Do you think this sets me apart and allows me to have conversations with people I would not normally be able to engage? Innovative people, passionate people and leaders are drawn to other people who have those same qualities.

Okay that's great, so what's the point?

When you are thinking about what to do with your upcoming break, don't just think about which box you can check off on the list of things to do in medical school. Draw your own box, man! Find a way to leverage your passion into a life experience that you can grow from. If that's travel, GO TRAVEL. If you're a passionate knitter of hats, DO THAT (then give them away to kids who are bald from chemo). If it's research, by all means research till your blue in the face! Volunteer in a hospital or research WHILE you travel (abroad programs). Be innovative with it, be creative, but most importantly... do it. If you are in love with what you are doing, it will show through to the people that matter. Cliche yes, but no less true. Remember... the blue sweater. Wear it! Love it! Stand out.

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