7 Unexpected Benefits of Going on a Medical Brigade

Published Date: June 23rd, 2021

Written By: GB Alumni Maddie Dutson

Joining a Global Medical Brigade (GMB) is a great opportunity to explore the field of global health, shadow physicians, and support GB’s ongoing sustainable development efforts. But if you’ve been on a brigade before, you know there is a lot more to a Medical Brigade than meets the eye. Though the possibilities are endless, we’ve compiled a list of 7 unexpected benefits of volunteering with GMB.

Community health workers receiving additional training at a CHW conference organized by the University of Toronto at the El Censo compound in Honduras.

1. You are part of year-round efforts

Many brigaders are surprised to learn about our sustainable year-round programs. Hopefully this approach isn’t too unexpected, but for many volunteers new to GB’s unique model, it is! We strive to be bold and different in our approach to international medical work. While you only experience a small slice of time on brigade, the funds you raise continue to propel communities toward sustainable solutions. Global Medical Brigades continue to make an impact even after you are gone, building on the work you do in the clinic with follow-up check-ins from Community Health Workers (CHWs) and supporting patients through our referral program

2. Making connections with GB Staff

You might hear some GB Staff members or volunteers refer to our “GB Family.” This isn’t just a nice phrase—it’s a real community! More than three years later, I am still in touch with the translators and coordinator from my first brigade. Maybe it’s the long hours spent on the bus or the transformative experience of working with community members, but exactly how these wonderful connections are made in just 7 days remains a mystery. 

3. Insight into the importance of Public Health

Being a part of Global Brigades means investing in a holistic approach to health. It can be easy in the medical field to get so caught up in consultations and treatments that you forget to look at the big picture. However, GB doctors and staff are great at helping volunteers see wider community challenges that trigger many health concerns. Even better than learning about it, after clinic days you have the opportunity to build public health projects and water systems that will work for years to come to improve community health by removing root causes of disease.

4. Entering Data Informatics has an upside 

Data Informatics (DI) is an infamous part of the Global Medical Brigade experience. It is great to see hundreds of patients during a day at the clinic…but it is a bit more tedious to go through their sheets and enter their encounters into Global Brigades’ electronic health record system. However, the nightly DI sessions are a great way to learn about the importance of record-keeping in sustainable healthcare. It is awesome to enter a patient record and see years of Global Brigades’ visit information.

University of Missouri Medical Volunteers reviewing DI reports from their clinic in Ebuakwa, Ghana.

5. Improving your language skills, or lighting the fire to start

Whether it’s Spanish immersion in Central America or Arabic in Greece, being on brigade is a great opportunity to practice using your second language in a clinical setting, or even just to organize a game of football after the kid’s education workshop is over (not to mention how fun jamming out to Spanish music on the way to the community is). When I was on brigade, the necessity of language and good communication in care was my most impactful take-away. Volunteering for the first time in Honduras, I spoke no Spanish. Even though the translators were wonderful, I missed being able to connect directly with families. After getting back to campus, I enrolled right away in courses. It’s thanks to my Medical Brigade that years later I’m speaking Spanish and loving it!

6. Connecting with other pre-medical students from your school without the stress

Let’s face it. Pre-med culture isn’t always the best (or at least it wasn’t at my alma mater). The curve is brutal, and expectations sometimes seem impossible. Being on brigade with other pre-health students is a great way to connect with like-minded people from your school in a completely different, non-competitive environment. Shadowing passionate physicians and seeing the difference healthcare makes in a community helped me and my peers connect and refocus on why we wanted to go into medicine in the first place. 

7. Being part of a community far away from home

On a Medical Brigade, you see almost all members of the community in the three days of clinic. You get to know the familiar faces of the CHWs, and see the same kids sneaking back into the children’s health workshop day after day. You aren’t seeing patients in a hospital, you’re seeing them in their neighborhood, in their school. As the University of Victoria found out, these connections last much longer than you would think. On their medical brigade in 2020, UVic returned to the same community in Honduras they visited in 2019; the smiles were countless as they talked to kids and families they had met a year ago.

University of Victoria volunteers with CHWs after their second year sending a brigade to El Tablón, Honduras.

Share Your Experiences With Us!

Our hope is that every brigade starts a ripple effect in the lives of volunteers, staff members, and community members. Your brigade experience doesn’t have to end with your flight home, the effects continue as you reflect on your experience and continue to notice your own unexpected experiences and insights. So what are you waiting for? Share your experiences by tagging @medicalbrigades on your #MyGBStory on social media, or go to our website and get involved!

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