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by Dave Nielson, DPM

There are many volunteer organizations in the world that serve the various needs of different countries. Some organizations are well funded however; the majority are on an eternal search for supplies, money and especially volunteers. Many have been on multiple trips and have more planned in the future. Why is this? Volunteers receive back in benefits more than they give. This universal truth is well known among those who have spent time giving back to society. There is ample opportunity for volunteers around the world.

Dr. Victor Cachia is on the Board for Liga International: Flying Doctors of Mercy, an organization out of Southern California that services Mexico. They offer pilots that supply their own planes that fly personnel and medical supplies to clinics in various cities in Mexico. They fly down once a month for 9 months out of the year.

This is a great organization for those with time restraints especially students and residents as they are able to fly out on Friday and return on Sunday. Pilots fly out of S. California, N. California and Arizona. Once there, they may see more patients in a weekend than they will see in a month of rotations. The clinic starts out on Friday night and runs a full Saturday and Sunday seeing hundreds of patients in a single weekend. Volunteers stay at the clinic while others opt for the more accommodating local hotels. The organization advertises on the local radio stations before their arrival. The natives, some of which travel many miles, wait in long lines outside waiting for the staff to open the clinic doors. Many of the regional doctors of Mexico also volunteer in the clinic. The clinic consists of many exam and treatment rooms. There is also an operating room.

General surgeons, podiatrists, ophthalmologists and dentists are among the many specialties that utilize this clinic to offer their services. However, many support staff include translators, nurses, builders and techs - just about anyone who can lend a hand.   

In a different part of Mexico lies a maternity hospital called Casa. Dr Milton Krantz started recruiting volunteers for 1-2 weeks to work at the hospital. There, they utilize two rooms and an operating room to see foot ailments. Like Liga, they also advertise on the local radio to inform the local residents of their arrival. Dr. Krantz from New England has been retired for 12 years. He uses his extra time to spend a few weeks a year at the clinic. Over the years, many patients have returned with their family and friends. Now Dr Gregory Still, out of Colorado spearheads the program.

DOCARE International serves the citizens of Guatemala. Here podiatrists work with osteopathic doctors. Under the care of attendings, many residents and students receive experience in taking histories, performing physicals, diagnosing and treating patients. Many of the ailments are just not seen here in the United States as frequently as are seen in other countries. For example, clubfoot is a very common finding in the newborns. However, because of lack of treatment, this is also seen in the adolescent.

The internet abounds in information about different volunteer organizations.  
A few examples include: WWW.enapha.org which services Ethiopia and Hope alliance which services Peru. For a more extensive and complete list of organizations that operate in different parts of the world, log onto IMVA.org.

Volunteering offers a great reward not only to those who are receiving but also to those who are giving of their time.

Foreign clinics usually do not have the many advanced modalities that are taken for granted in the US. For example, MRI, CAT scans, x-rays, and laboratory facilities. Diagnoses are not made with these tests but rather the history, physical and clinical presentation.

Podiatry is a relatively new field in many of these countries. Some languages still do not have a translation for the word. By spending time with the local people and offering help to those who are most in need, we can fill a desperate void that is all around us. Think of the reason you went into this profession and chances are that you will find a very fulfilling niche by spending time with some of these organizations and helping those who need it most. Once there, many new windows will open up to you. As you work with doctors from all over the world, you will learn from them techniques, words of wisdom and have a great networking system added your repertoire. As you give of your time, energy and resources, your own life will fall into place. Volunteering gives life a compass. Knowing that you are helping those in need is one of the most rewarding experiences in life that you will just have to find out for yourself.

Useful websites:
    http://www.imva.org (various groups all over the world)
    http://www.ligainternational.org (Mexico)
    http://www.docareintl.org (Guatemala)

Volunteer History

1997-1998 - Healthcare for the Homeless. Albuquerque, New Mexico

April 2002 – Liga International Flying Doctors of Mercy. San Blas, Mexico

June 2002 – Liga International Flying Doctors of Mercy. San Blas, Mexico

March 2003 – La Casa Hospital. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

May 2003 – Liga International Flying Doctors of Mercy. San Blas, Mexico

May 2004 – Liga International Flying Doctors of Mercy. San Blas, Mexico

February 2007 – Liga International Flying Doctors of Mercy. San Blas, Mexico

November 2008 – Liga International Flying Doctors of Mercy. San Blas, Mexico

February 2009 – Liga International Flying Doctors of Mercy, San Blas, Mexico

November 2010 – Liga International Flying Doctors of Mercy, San Blas, Mexico