NICARAGUA, NOVEMBER 2017 – Scott Smith MD, Class of 2018

The mission trip to Nicaragua has been one of my top experiences in residency. Every year as a junior resident I heard about the fantastic excursions and the meaningful encounters the fifth years had during their trips, and I desperately wanted to have my own. I have been lucky enough to travel to exotic places, but never have I gone with a humanitarian goal. I soon realized how much of an undertaking it is to organize this trip; between packing all the surgical gloves, masks, and foot coverings for the week, on top of the copious plates and screws, our group was hauling a significant (and pricey) amount of gear. And there was always the risk that the customs agents would simply “seize” our equipment before we could get out of the airport. And then we were supposed to deliver treatment with a huge language and cultural barrier!

Luckily, immediately after passing customs our group saw a friendly face. Pablo, one of the Nicaraguan residents who did a rotation in Milwaukee as a part of the exchange program, met us at the airport as we began our week. It was here that began to realize that this mission trip is different than others. Because we have established a lasting relationship with Nicaraguan residents and physicians, our week in Nicaragua has a more lasting effect.

This became apparent on the first operative day. Not only were we doing complex pediatric and adult cases, we were working directly alongside the Nicaraguan physicians, exchanging ideas and teaching principals and techniques. As with a lot of humanitarian work, we could have easily swept in, acted like we owned the place, did meaningful work on a few individuals, then picked up and left. However, because we know the Nicaraguan physicians on a personal and professional level, and continue to communicate with them after we leave, we have much more impact on the patients in Nicaragua by helping train their physicians to be more self-sufficient and take on some of these cases themselves in the future. The experience also taught me to appreciate all we have in the US; even equipment as simple as a K-wire is valuable and hard to find. It was interesting having to “MacGyver” through some cases with far less than we have at home.

The trip to Nicaragua is one that I will remember for the rest of my career, as well as sparked an interest in humanitarian work. The experience that Dr. Schwab has developed has set a great example for what mission work can be and how as physicians we can have a lasting impact on our fellow man. I will be forever indebted for this experience.