By Lawrence Loh, MD MPH
We’ve talked a lot about the value of short-term medical trips and the benefits that the local community, the young professional volunteers, and the organizations themselves could potentially derive from coordinating such efforts. Such coordination is obviously challenging, though; with growing numbers of participants, there are always myriad opinions, ideas, and suggestions that would shape any such model.
Thus far, the biggest barrier faced in implementing a successful coordination model has been structural: a genuine lack of time and effective programs. A proposed website (as described in our previous post) involves significant technical knowledge and programming, as well as up-front aesthetic designs. At present we are in the midst of developing a prototype, but it will obviously need to be piloted by key stakeholders before being put into active service. Making this harder is the general lack of time – as young professionals passionate on the subject, we’re busy doing this off the side of our desks while working our regular day jobs.
Other challenges have been in reaching out and managing the expectations of all the parties involved. We are fortunate that there are so many different teams with differing histories, experiences, skill sets and ideas that are working in the community in question. It challenges us, however, to work with leaders and form consensus, trying to determine a process for what we need to do – how will we standardize protocols? Why have a real-time inventory, and how would we get people to participate? We also work alongside the local leadership to identify gaps and needs that can be fulfilled by projects run by the teams in tandem, and then work with the teams to figure out how best to broadly address these and implement them effectively.
The diversity of opinions and ideas, while valuable, can often times conflict with one another. Different folks have different priorities and different thoughts on the way forward, and of course, the local leadership have their needs and gaps to be met as well. The challenge is in ensuring that everyone feels a valued part of the team – because everyone is – and further to that, ensuring that key aspects of their vision are included in an overarching, shared vision that teams together can take ownership and pride in.
For the most part, though, such challenges are immensely rewarding – the exchange of information and opinions strengthens and galvanizes everyone’s efforts in the common cause. Perhaps the most important aspect of everything is despite the differences, the opportunity to speak and to keep things front of mind is a valuable intangible benefit in keeping everyone involved motivated and committed, eyes on the prize.
In this case, a challenge can be a strength – both in learning how to manage critical relationships, but also, towards improving things by asking the impertinent questions about how best to work together to produce those outcomes that we seek.
Dr. Lawrence Loh is Chief Medical Officer of The 53rd Week, and a physician in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.