Published 4/1/2012
Peter Pollack

Teach, Travel, Learn Program Opens Doors

Volunteering overseas can be a daunting experience, but training program smoothes the path

“Surgeons often have very reasonable concerns when considering participation in Orthopaedics Overseas (OO),” said Richard C. Fisher, MD, a retired orthopaedist who has been an OO volunteer for more than 30 years. “During the Teach, Travel, Learn course, we try to help them overcome those concerns and provide them with the tools they need to be successful when they go.”

Dr. Fisher is the course chair for the 2012 Teach, Travel, Learn program. During Teach, Travel, Learn, orthopaedists are taught what to expect when they volunteer for a 2- to 4-week trip with OO, which serves as the orthopaedic arm of Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO).

An honest picture
“There are three components to the program,” explained Dr. Fisher. “The first is educational—to help volunteers develop the instructional skills needed. Most surgeons have all the knowledge they need, but it helps to have an outline for how to approach the training.

“The second component is cultural adaptation—helping our volunteers know how to assimilate into another culture so they can be comfortable working with the local healthcare providers.

“And the final component has to do with orthopaedics itself. Many aspects of medical care are different in developing countries. There aren’t as many supplies, and the challenges are unlike those we face in the United States. We offer solutions to problems that our providers may not have seen before.”

Teach, Travel, Learn has been held three times, most recently in 2008. All previous sessions have been filled to capacity, demonstrating the orthopaedic community’s strong desire to “give back.” Dr. Fisher points out that the course faculty are all volunteers.

“Getting other people involved and answering their questions is something that is really fun for us to do,” he said. “We try to assure them that they’ll be all right, that they can do this. It’s an organized program, so they’re not just cast out there alone.

“We also try to present an honest picture. Some people learn that this type of volunteering isn’t for them, and that’s fine. We don’t want them to get involved in something with which they’ll be unhappy or uncomfortable.”

Families welcome
In addition to training surgeons for volunteer efforts in developing countries, Teach, Travel, Learn also has a special session for spouses.

“Some volunteers prefer to go alone,” explained Dr. Fisher, “but often a volunteer would like to take his or her spouse, so we encourage their participation. Depending on the location, some volunteers even choose to take their children.”

Dr. Fisher calls participation in OO a “life-changer for most people.” During his decades of volunteering, he has met many colleagues and made many friends around the world, and he believes the experiences have made him a better surgeon.

“Being exposed to a different culture and solving familiar problems in different ways is a valuable thing,” he said. “These people become good colleagues and good friends. It’s a wonderful experience, and many volunteers return home saying, ‘We learned more than we taught.’ In Teach, Travel, Learn, we explain that is to be expected. The volunteers are going to learn a lot, and building colleague-to-colleague relationships is the most important part.”

Teach, Travel, Learn takes place June 15–16 in Washington, D.C. For more information, including registration fees, visit www.aaos.org/courses

Peter Pollack is a staff writer for AAOS Now. He can be reached at ppollack@aaos.org

About HVO
HVO, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, was created to help improve health care in developing countries by training and educating local healthcare providers. It was an outgrowth of Orthopaedics Overseas, which was founded in 1959, and orthopaedist James Cobey, MD, was HVO’s first president.