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    Derm describes transformative experience


    How to prepare

    One doesn’t have to be a member of the military to get involved, Dr. Scribner says. Preparing for a humanitarian mission requires that dermatologists make plans for their practices while they’re gone. But that’s not all they have to consider.

    One of the benefits of a military humanitarian mission, compared to non-military volunteer healthcare missions, is much of the personal preparation is taken care of by the military. This includes lodging on the ship, food, issues of personal security and water and food safety.

    “One needs to be prepared with vaccines. We were on malaria prophylaxis, but the danger isn’t as great because the environment with this is a little more controlled than the other volunteer experiences,” Dr. Scribner says.

    Volunteers need to be physically ready, she says.

    “This is physically challenging because of the mobile platform. We would ride small boats in and out every day and whatever gear you needed, you had to be able to carry,” Dr. Scribner says.

    You must also prepare emotionally for what you might see and experience, she says.

    “I think I saw about 2,700 different dermatology patients in the six months,” she says. “And some were really challenging cases that we really couldn’t do anything for other than to just hold the patients’ hands and talk to them about their skin condition or their disease and show compassion. It was emotionally harder for me than I thought it would be — to see that level of poverty and what it can do.”

    In the end, the experience left Dr. Scribner with perspective on the privilege that comes with living in the United States.

    “I had several physician roommates, and we all discussed how this experience would shape us. We were worried that we would feel very different with our patients, but in a way you just feel grateful to have what we do have. We’re grateful to be able to follow our patients,” she says.

    The next step

    The Navy partners with non-governmental organizations, which provide volunteers for these missions. Dermatologists who are interested in volunteering can look into Project Hope. Dr. Scribner says the nurse practitioners onboard were provided through Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN). The Latter-day Saints charities also provided people and might be a resource for dermatologists, Dr. Scribner says.

    Disclosure: Dr. Scribner has no conflicts to report.

    Lisette Hilton
    Lisette Hilton is president of Words Come Alive, based in Boca Raton, Florida.

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