In my last post, I addressed the first of two common barriers to pursuing medical missions, the large debt students incur throughout their training. This time, I address a back-end issue, the challenge of finding a suitable position after you return from years on the field.
A career in medical missions has many benefits, but at some point most missionaries are called to return from the field. The problem (among other things) is that, while you’re away, your clinical skill set may become quite different from what is required back in the States. This may create an irrelevance, real or merely perceived, that makes re-entry difficult.
After his presentation on global health at Temple University Medical School, I took the opportunity to ask Dr. John Tarpley about ways to make this process less painful. Dr. Tarpley, a general surgeon, spent fifteen years in Nigeria before returning to the States and currently serves in an academic position at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
While his remarks are geared especially to an academic medical context, many of them will also hold relevance more generally.
- Relationships are a somewhat ethereal, but important, part of the bigger picture. It’s important to treat everyone well, remembering that your resident or fellow may someday be your boss! Keeping in touch with key contacts while you’re abroad may also prove to be beneficial, allowing you to stay current on what positions may be opening up. A good word from someone in the right position can make all the difference.
- Use your furloughs wisely. Most missionaries come back from the field temporarily, typically for a year, every so often. While there are many things to do while home, you can also opt to work clinically during that time if you plan ahead. Many universities have, or can create, positions that will last for the time you’re home, especially if you’re willing to do something less desirable. Dr. Tarpley, for example, took extra call. While he worked harder than his colleagues, he worked far less than he did while abroad.
- Keep your certifications current. There are often ways to maintain your credentials while abroad. If you do this, you’ll be more prepared for re-entry if it comes upon you suddenly.
- There is a certain cost to serving internationally. While there are many things, such as the above, you can do to make a homeward transition more palatable, it won’t be entirely smooth. This is simply part of serving Christ. After all, we serve a Savior whose transition from heaven to earth was anything but easy. It may take time to be (or return) to where you want to be after coming back, but you can trust that your are on God’s time-table.
- Trust in what God was doing. Although at first you may appear less relevant to your American colleagues, while you’re away God will give you the exact experiences and skills He wants you to have for the next leg of the journey. Eventually, your new colleagues will see the value and wisdom in this, even if they can’t quite articulate that.
So, there are definitely barriers to serving internationally both before and after. At the same time, God’s love for the world is greater than those barriers, and if He’s calling you away from home, He will make a way.
Tell us your story of God’s provision in the comments section!