Short Term Humanitarian Missions

By Michel Tetrault, D.C.

– Ideas for an updated model of structuring chiropractic missions.

Chiropractic Ecotourism may well be defined as travel related activities that combine a vacation to a foreign country with a humanitarian activity. These missions are value driven experiences that bring great personal gratification for the participating Doctors of Chiropractic.

Short-term humanitarian missions are increasing in both the number of countries served and in the frequency of events in each country. There are two main groups of participants: secular and non-secular. Although motivation may vary from group to group, the common thread is purely humanitarian.

People living ordinary lives with only the occasional extra-ordinary experiences that bring fulfillment and satisfaction are finding themselves attracted to experiences that have the potential to “transform” their lives. Transformational experiences sought by the religious participants help them reach a closer experience and relationship with God through service to the needy. Transformational experiences sought by non-secular individuals help nurture their humanitarian tendencies and possibly also are opportunities to get closer to God.

Short-term humanitarian missions offer both physical and emotional experiences that provoke serious introspection in re-evaluating one’s “purpose in life” or one’s sense of placement in their community. For chiropractors, as in other healthcare and service oriented disciplines, the desired outcome of donating one’s time and money to participate in these missions is also to renew their dedication to the “reasons why they became a chiropractor in the first place.” In all cases we see successful outcomes.

Since we have seen more of these missions in the latter part of the 20th Century it is safe to assume that primary mission goals are being achieved. The question today is: “Do these goals serve the greater good?” What are some of the primary mission objectives?

To reach more prospective religious converts through healthcare services.
To renew a practitioner’s motivation in their profession by donating their services to the needy.
To acquire an appreciation for how good life really is at home after experiencing first hand the world’s poverty.
To increase awareness of the benefits of chiropractic care.
To participate in the healing of people without financial gain. (Humanitarian service)
To get away for a vacation that has greater personal satisfaction.
To visit new places and become exposed to different cultures.
As you can see, existing short-term missions are successful in achieving these personal objectives, but the questions of lasting benefit to the people served and the chiropractic profession as a whole also needs to be raised. Do short-term missions really help the intended target population? How can these missions be designed to produce a greater benefit to the establishment of the profession; which ultimately translates into more and better care for the patients?

It is always heartwarming to hear the reports from mission doctors about their renewal in the simple, beauty of chiropractic and, in particular, about some of the spectacular and miraculous results received by some of the individuals following their first chiropractic adjustment, especially the children. As doctors we have learned to personally appreciate the value of lifetime chiropractic care so it must be heartbreaking for the participating doctors to leave a population without care once the mission is over.

Short-term missions are just that… of short duration. What can be done to raise the outcome of missions to create more regular access to care? In answering these questions, several inspired DCs have attempted to create a network of some sort where a number of doctors could rotate into a permanent clinic location. They are finding this goal very difficult to accomplish and have to settle for scattered return trips with often, small groups, and admittedly, a hard task that is financially and emotionally depleting.

Reaching across borders, oceans, great distances and cultural differences presents many challenges. It takes resources and reserves of money, people, time and opportunities. We will likely continue to see an increase in foreign missions. How can these dedicated DCs meet the demands of today’s mission needs? Networking and sharing experiences and resources is a good place to start. Adopting an updated mission structure is the next step to take, one that addresses the deficiencies of older models and also takes partial responsibility to be a stakeholder in the establishment of the profession of chiropractic in the target countries.

Today’s researchers and businessmen and women have learned the value of “outcome based” designs for their work. If we really want to bring chiropractic to other countries it will require designing a mission structure that places patients’ needs first, the professional needs second and personal needs third. Since we’ve already established that personal needs are being met, let’s look at the other two areas.

Patients’ needs are pretty simple: They want access to a doctor when they need one. A doctor who is affordable and who is willing to become a part of their community. It’s really no different than what patients expect of their doctors where chiropractic is established.

The profession needs six things from short-term chiropractic missions:

1) Attract qualified doctors who may become permanent additions to the country’s roster. Let the DCs know that they are welcome to come back and become a part of the pioneer effort in that country.
2) Attract prospective students to the profession from the attention and PR produced by the event. Schedule regular “special student sessions” at local universities or have people return after the day’s clinic hours for a student talk.
4) Local DCs need to be included in the planning stages and their clinic advertised to the patients who are cared for by the mission team. (So patients will have a place to continue care.)
4) Respect the authority of the local DCs and tap into their contacts but mostly use the “dignitary” status of the mission to further the cause of establishing the profession in a more formal or official capacity.
5) Only bring licensed doctors to adjust people and be fully documented at all times. The only exception is when a DC school structures a clinic environment within the mission group and even then, only senior interns who qualify and receive school clinic credits.
6) Make the mission a series of highly publicized events in each location. High profile events reach more people and have the best results across the board.

Humanitarian missions have left many of the existing practicing DCs with mixed feelings. If we are to extend the concept of outcome oriented activities, there could be special consideration made for the doctors who are pioneering chiropractic in the developing countries targeted by mission groups.

Chiropractic is only regulated or officially recognized in about 30 countries. These are largely “northern countries” with an advanced industrialized economy. In the other 65 countries, where chiropractic is not legislated, there is nothing to stop anyone from misrepresenting themselves as chiropractors. This is why mission participants need to be documented.

Understandably, pioneer DCs may not feel entirely comfortable with receiving too much attention since they actually live with the fear or the risk of sanctions by the local government should a chiropractic group create undesirable results. Always include the leadership of the existing DCs in any activities where chiropractic services are being delivered to the local population. They may have no interest in participating in the mission or it’s planning; being tied up with their own practice and families. Or, just the opposite, they can be a valuable ally and a primary contact. Either way, they are entitled to be notified and invited.

For a listing of Worldwide Chiropractic Missions, visit:
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