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Can A Specialist Do Medical Missions?

banwart_brucePropelled by the devastating 2004 tsunami and the ever-growing global HIV/AIDS crisis, interest in medical missions has never been higher. Many health professionals feel compelled to volunteer their services to those people most in need, but few follow through on these good intentions due to numerous misconceptions about medical missions. Two of the most common are: “I have a specialty that can’t be used” and “I can’t afford to take time off.”


The life of one physician, Bruce Banwart, illustrates how these perceived obstacles can be crossed. Bruce is a pediatric intensivist – a sub-specialist skilled in the care of critically ill children at Children’s Mercy Hospital. Dr. Banwart, a frequent presenter at the Exploring Medical Missions Conference, and actively cares for the world’s most impoverished people.


Few mission or government hospitals in developing nations have a pediatric intensive care unit or other such sophisticated services. Bruce had volunteered in primary care clinics in Latin America, and almost gave up on the hope of using his specialized medical skills. Then he became connected with Operation Smile – an organization that provides reconstructive facial surgery to indigent children in the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and Iraq. Operation Smile needed a pediatric intensivist to care for their children following surgery, and Dr. Banwart responded. He spent several weeks in Asia with Operation Smile and reports, “These especially needy children require complex post operative care. I’m encouraged that I discover my niche!”


How can a health professional afford the time away from their practice? Dr. Banwart responds, “I live a prudent lifestyle, financially speaking, and dedicate my vacation time to medical missions. The sacrifice is really minimal compared with the new friendships, experiences and satisfaction of serving those who are most helpless.”

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