By Lawrence Loh, MD MPH
We’ve returned from yet another successful trip to La Romana. With a team of 19 people who hailed from Vancouver, San Diego, Denver, Kansas City, Chicago, Toronto, Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, The 53rd Week provided primary pediatric care to over 500 children in the bateyes of La Romana, Dominican Republic in concert with our partners at Hospital Buen Samaritano.
Grateful to our financial and in-kind sponsors who provided monetary, medicinal, and general supply assistance, we were able to make a small impact among the pediatric patients we saw in communities. For many members of our team, this was their first time on a service trip, and they also experienced enormous personal growth and benefit. Many were able to develop their clinical acumen while seeing first-hand the nature of global health primary care.
Some members of our team. “We’re kind of from everywhere.”
While the literature always talks about the enormous costs and harms associated with short-term trips there are also those intangible benefits that our participants were able to derive. There was the forging of relationships between members of the groups – relationships that have the potential to last over the course of a professional career. As is usually the case when Canadians and Americans meet in the same place, there was plenty of comparisons and discussions – that veritable exchange of ideas and viewpoints that challenged minds and provoked deeper questions (in addition to the more simply fun ones, like trying to figure out what the American equivalent of “eh” is or comparing cereal brands for sale on either side of 49.)
There were also, however, the relationships we forged with the local leadership and team that we worked in partnership with. We know in this life that a lot of it comes down to who you know and relate to personally – it is different seeing someone and knowing them face to face than it is through an email or a wire money transfer. Here there is a reference point, a memory, time spent in their house trying to build that link. What could potentially come of it remains to be seen – but most important is that potential that is there, far beyond just handing out resources for distribution – there is a more important personal connection which can be relied on as the foundation for change and greater efforts together.
The other intangible benefits derived by our team were individual perspectives and viewpoints on the work being done there. It allowed many of our participants to ask the hard questions about the work they were doing. They were able to immerse themselves in the work and environment while considering the sustainability and ethics surrounding short-term medical trips, as well as the overarching picture and systems view that leads to the poverty that give rise to the related health and social concerns seen in the communities.
For all these benefits, The 53rd Week continues to work on implementing a collaborative model for existing short-term teams in La Romana. With the help of the hospital we’ve been given the go-ahead to launch the web-based collaboration platform. It’s now a matter of persuading other teams that head down that we are stronger together. Indeed, with some of the other teams, we have already begun having monthly teleconferences and initiated research projects together, all with the aim of improving outcomes for the folks down there. Our hope is that the benefit will not solely be borne by us, the visitors, but that some tangible, long-lasting benefit may come for the local community in La Romana as we move these efforts to more than just a week down there – to something bigger than the whole of its parts.
The relationship piece was something I tackled in a recent publication in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. There is something to be said for being there in person, for building that relationship – the potential for further work and change is that much more real when those networks are maintained.
The 53rd Week continues to be committed to forging connections between groups and individuals both within their home environments and with areas further abroad. We believe that the collaborative benefit of friendships and relationships that transcend artificial divisions is transformative and represents a lifetime of potential good. It’s our hope that the new year will provide us an opportunity to grow new networks which will be indispensable to creating those multidisciplinary, multinational, multi-idea solutions that will support today’s global health efforts.
You can read my article here. (institution access may be required)
Photo: this year’s 53rd Week team to La Romana with our local partners from Good Samaritan Hospital.
Thanks again to all our sponsors for their kind support!
Dr. Lawrence Loh is Chief Medical Officer of The 53rd Week.