Don’t worry, Cameron Slovic wasn’t actually doing the surgery in this photo. He and I were on a surgical mission with our dad and a team of doctors in a rural clinic in Kenya over spring break. Cameron and I did small things that helped the real surgeons- cutting sutures and holding retractors, mostly. The surgeons joked that they hadn’t done what Cameron and I got to do- scrub in and actually aid hands-on in surgery- until they were third-year medical students, or residents, even. The trip was a great experience for Cameron and I in learning more about surgery, and as a team we did over 50 surgical cases without a single report of infection, all successes.

That Cameron and I, teenagers, were able to do in a poorer, rural country what we would have needed years of training to do in the United States raises an important ethical question. When people go to other countries for a week or two to practice medicine (also known as “medical voluntourism”), do they need to have the same qualifications and standards as a doctor would need in the United States? Our intentions were good, we were welcomed enthusiastically, and we did no harm, but should we have been held to the same standards as we would be in the US (in this case, we would have only been able to stand and watch the surgeries- not participate)?

The organization we worked with sends a group to the clinic in Migori, Kenya, every two weeks, and keeps a doctor and team of workers on staff there at all times- if there had been an infection or complication from a surgery, the next medical team would be there soon enough to take care of it. On the eight-hour car ride back to Nairobi some of the doctors were talking about how well-organized the whole trip was, and discussing some of the problems there would be with more casual medical voluntourism, where a team would be in and out of a poor area without any follow-up, just a one time thing. What do you think about Cameron and I playing a role in the OR, and the whole concept of medical missions in the first place? Comment below.