Partner for Surgery (PfS) and our Guatemalan partner, Asociación Compañero Para Cirugía (ACPC), coordinate 6+ Mobile Medical Missions every year, to reach Guatemalans without access to health care, living in the most remote areas. “MMMs” evaluate hundreds of patients for problems which can be treated by a surgical procedure, like hernias, prolapsed uteruses, masses, and cleft lip/palate.
PfS and ACPC follow up with Surgical Missions, helping medical professionals form a team, or working with organizations like Free to Smile, Project HANDS, International Surgical Missions, and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who organize teams. Surgical Missions operate at out-patient clinics that include well-equipped operating rooms, a PACU, post op area and a large sleeping and eating facility that can accommodate patients and their families. Most cases are hernias, lumps and bumps, an occasional breast mass, cleft surgeries, and other in and out procedures. We have the capacity to do laparoscopic procedures, such as gall bladders, and a few of these have been done, but some instrumentation must be brought here. Because we can keep patients for the whole week with post operative follow up, such procedures are possible.
The PfS/ACPC Medical Director and his medical assistants, translators, and other helpers make sure things move along smoothly. PfS/ACPC coordinates the transportation of patients for surgery. Every patient is accompanied by a Health Promoter, who provides all necessary patient logistics (transportation, food, temporary housing).
Although our patients are extremely poor, they are asked to make a small contribution towards the cost of the transportation, food, labs and/or make a donation to the hospital.
You can learn more by clicking here or reading the FAQs below.
How do we start?
- Identify the Team: Identify a core group of surgeons, anesthesiologists, and OR personnel interested and committed to participate.
- Select a Date: Select a date 6-8 months in advance and confirm availability with Partner for Surgery.
- Nominate a Leader: Nominate a team leader to keep things on track and complete paperwork.
- Collect expendable supplies: Collect the necessary medical supplies and drugs, to be carried in by team members. (Check with Partner for Surgery to see what will be needed.)
- Schedule Flights: Schedule and arrange transportation to Guatemala
- Ask for donations!
Who should be on the Team?
The ideal composition is 16 members: 3 surgeons, 3 anesthesiologists and 10 operating room (OR) staff and nurses. Three of each specialty assures that the mission will not be compromised if one of the surgeons or anesthesiologists drops out. You will need two OR techs in each OR, three nurses in the PACU, and three nurses in the post op area (which also serves as a pre op site). Pathologists are also helpful, insuring that results are turned around quickly.
What about paperwork?
Three months prior to the Mission, team members need to submit to the Team Leader their paperwork and copies of their licenses. Physicians need to be board-eligible or board-certified in their respective specialties, and actively practicing (retired specialists not actively practicing should not be the primary surgeon or anesthesiologist on any case but can assist other physicians in the operating room). Nurses and OR techs must also submit licenses but unlike physicians they can participate if retired. Residents in the specialties are acceptable understanding that they must function only under supervision.
What is the role of the Team Leader?
The team leader is responsible for each physician’s credentials and also must be able to attest to the competency of all members of the team. The team leader must document the number and type of cases along with complications. This information should be submitted to the local Partner for Surgery representative at the end of the Mission.
What does our Team need to bring?
We use operating rooms that are well equipped with standard anesthesia machines, monitoring equipment and surgical instruments. Teams can purchase all the necessary supplies from Globus Relief in Utah and have them shipped to Guatemala. The total costs for supplies and shipping is $4,000. We are working hard to reduce those costs in the future.
If you would rather collect supplies and bring them with you, we suggest you start 6 months before the mission. Retired OR personnel may be willing to volunteer for this. A secure room for storing supplies, preferably in a hospital, is essential.
How can we get the supplies we need donated?
Most companies have a process for donating supplies, and the most senior members of the Team should approach them about a donation. It works best to solicit companies that work with hospitals of the team members. (Ethicon, for example, has been generous about donating sutures). You can also start accumulating and re-sterilizing supplies that were opened for a case but not used.
How about medicines?
Drug representatives can of course be approached for donations of non-narcotics, and some non-narcotic medicines may be available for purchase in Guatemala. We may even have some left over from a previous Mission. Once you have decided to organize a Mission, our staff will be able to help you with local resource information. Americares is an excellent source for donated medicines. They do need a 10-week lead-time, charge a $200 application fee, and limit shipments to 2 per organization per year. For this reason, use your organization’s name, not Partner for Surgery in your application. Each Americares shipment contains 10 cases, and cases cannot be broken down. So if you need just a few ampules, for example, it is more practical to purchase them in Guatemala or bring them with you from the states.
What about narcotic medicines?
Guatemala has a list of medicines that cannot be brought into the country, and in general those medicines are narcotics. Violating Guatemalan law could jeopardize the whole Mission. Our staff can purchase the narcotic medicines in preparation for the arrival of your Mission, but they need a 2-month lead time in order to get approval from Guatemalan authorities.
How do we get the supplies and non-narcotic medicines to Guatemala?
Supplies and non-narcotic drugs should be carried on the plane by Team members. We recommend that each Team member have two large duffel bags to bring the supplies. The supplies in each bag should be listed and made available to customs. Some airlines may charge you for the second bag. A carry on bag for personal items should be sufficient for the week, especially since you will be wearing scrub suits every day (and the staff at the clinic will wash the dirty scrub suits so you always have clean suits available).
What will the Mission cost?
The cost to the team for one week in-country, is approximately $14,000, not including airfare. It does include:
- $3,600: room/board for patients and family (see pic to right), transportation from their village to surgery, escort and interpretation. On average 60 patients are operated on in one week
- $2,400: room/board for 16 Team members
- $1,000:travel to and from airport, daily transportation
- $2,500: clinic staff, translators, other personnel
- $2,500: medicine purchased in the USA and in Guatemala (the drug cost is a major variable that depends on the success of soliciting donations)
Round trip tickets to Guatemala from the Washington, DC metro area typically run about $600; airfare is typically higher from other areas. On some teams the physicians cover half of everyone’s fare, others charge a sliding scale (physicians $900, nurses $600 and techs $300), and still others charge a flat rate of $350 and fund raise the rest.
How can we raise $14,000?
Teams can start by asking for $12,000 from their respective hospitals (many hospitals have philanthropic Boards). Drug and device representatives should be aggressively approached. These companies usually require the money to be given to a non-profit organization. Other corporations might also be interested. Team members who belong to large practice groups should approach their leadership. Some of them may even have a program of matching grants. Events like wine and cheese parties can be successful – charging each participant $50 as an entrance fee, plus collecting donations could easily raise $5,000. Local businesses and friends could be approached for individual contributions. The key to raising money is for each team member to be involved, each one soliciting money from a variety of sources. If the team is all from the same hospital or group practice, their efforts will more likely be noticed with many people willing to donate. Volunteers should understand that their involvement in such a worthwhile effort will draw support from many sources. Use Facebook to keep individual donors involved.
What is the typical schedule?
Usually teams evaluate and confirm diagnosis on all patients on Sunday, triage day and then operates from Monday through Thursday. After rounds on Friday morning, they can leave and spend Friday and Saturday in Antigua, a lovely colonial town which has excellent restaurants and shopping.
Do we need to get vaccinated?
All providers should check with their personal physician about vaccinations. Hepatitis A and typhoid vaccine along with malaria prophylaxis may be recommended.
Will we be safe?
Team Members should be aware that Guatemala, like many developing countries and our own inner cities, can be at times unsafe and there is a risk involved. We have had no episodes for our groups, but caution is important. The Team will be staying at nearby accommodation and transported in a Partner for Surgery van.
If we had to summarize the attitude of the teams, it would be this: teams are so enthusiastic about their experience that they insist that their group returns next year. We can assure you that it will be a rewarding experience for everyone with the enthusiasm transmitted to the hospital, nursing and surgical staff back home. Like anything worthwhile, it takes some effort organizing, but the rewards are great!
I would like to volunteer! What’s the next step?
Can my spouse come too?
Priority is given to medical volunteers, PfS staff, translators, and Mobile Medical Mission sponsors. If there is space, your spouse is welcome to join us. Your spouse will also need to complete the Volunteer Application and Release and Waiver of Liability.
I have additional questions. Whom should I contact?
Contact Dr. Joseph Giordano with additional questions.