Overcoming Obstacles To Medical Missions 2: Can I Get A Job When I Come Back?

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!

Successful Re-entry

This post is all about re-entry.  From the previous year.  Or a retreat.  Or into a new season of life.  How do you keep new resolutions?  How do you take what you learned on a retreat and actually live it out in real life for more than a day?

Obviously, a lot of ink has been spilled on topics like these, and we can’t cover everything here.  But, this blog is built around the conviction that the bible is incredibly relevant for ‘real life’, and I want to share a few thoughts from Hebrews 12.

So, how do you re-enter your life successfully?

  • It’s OK to admit that life is hard.  I know, “duh.”  Sometimes, though, we act like it shouldn’t be.  Or, that we should be up to handling it with only minor struggles.  But verse 1 says, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”  Races are hard, long, and exhausting.  Healthcare (as well as pop and corporate culture) will tell you that you’re smart, talented, etc. (and you are), and that you should be able to ‘do life’ pretty easily.  It isn’t, and that’s OK.  That’s actually comforting.  (There is also this issue of “sin” that verse 1 mentions).
  • Keep your eyes on Jesus.  Verse 2 talks about “looking to Jesus.”  It’s so easy, when life is hard, and you feel like you should be doing better, to beat yourself up and feel like a failure.  And merely try the same things with more intensity (one definition of insanity).  But, the author of Hebrews would say, “That just makes things worse.  Every time you start focusing on you, turn your attention back to Him.”
  • You may be thinking, though, “So what does it mean to keep my focus on Jesus?”  It can sound like another cliché.  I wish we had the time to unpack all of Hebrews 12 here, but I’d like to highlight something verse 2 points out.  Even though Jesus was about to face the cross, his focus was on “the joy set before him” that eventually led him back to be with his Father in heaven (“is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”).  So one part of focusing on Jesus is – especially with whatever re-entry challenges you’re facing – focusing on the good that lies ahead.  For Jesus, that was being with his Father again, and, knowing that his death meant we would be there with him, too.  Absolutely amazing.

And so, as you ‘re-enter’ life in this new year, what does your “race” look like?  Where do you need endurance?  And, more importantly, how can you keep your eyes on Jesus in ways that are practical and real?