The MedSend Longevity Project
The challenges facing missionary healthcare providers started long before Ebola and COVID-19.
One of MedSend’s founders, Dr. Dan Fountain, was quite familiar with the unique set of difficulties they faced. Willing to share his firsthand knowledge and wisdom, he taught a class for those who were preparing to go into the mission field.
The instruction was based on his life experiences as a missionary doctor to the DRC. Dan was insightful, and his observations were compelling. As a MedSend Board member, he would occasionally recommend that an applicant take his class prior to serving as a healthcare professional on the mission field.
I would follow up with the attendees after the class, and their responses astounded me. They were some of the best, brightest, and most well-educated people in the country. Many had been preparing to go to the mission field as a doctor, nurse, or another form of healthcare provider since they were teenagers. Yet after one week of instruction from this gifted missionary physician, they would say things like “ He changed my entire view of what I am to do,” or “I had no idea these objectives were possible,” or “It has changed me and my perspective in ways I could not have imagined.“
I began to ask if one week at the feet of this master teacher could have that impact, what other forms of preparation might be helpful? That question led me on a six-year journey to understand the answer and respond to it.
The outcome is the MedSend Longevity Project.
Providing Better Preparation and Support
The objective of the MedSend Longevity Project is as follows:
“In partnership with our Associates and other partners, we will set out to increase the average length of service of the MedSend grant recipient missionary by focusing on resilience and sustainability, seeking to improve their professional, personal and spiritual well-being.“
The vast majority of missions organizations that are sending healthcare professionals long-term from the US to the world are partners with MedSend. From our vantage point, we see a wide variation in the processes for selecting, preparing, and caring for healthcare missionaries. The MedSend Longevity Project is designed to bring every missionary healthcare professional who receives a MedSend grant to the same level of preparedness and support- regardless of their affiliated mission-sending agency.
The Longevity Project will not replace or re-create member care provided by our sending agency partners, but it will expand care to meet the unique needs of medical missionaries.
Unique experiences of healthcare missionaries
Healthcare missionaries in third-world countries typically experience most, if not all, of the following:
- The 24/7/365 nature of the demands on the healthcare professional.
- The level of death and disease they encounter has not been addressed by their training or previous experience.
- The very real and often valid sense that if they take a break, people will die. Take a vacation and more die.
- The sophisticated model of healthcare they have been trained under is non-existent.
- The available tools and infrastructure are limited and inadequate to have outcomes similar to those they had previously experienced.
- The stress of low-resource environments has a negative effect on their confidence, effectiveness, productivity, spiritual life, and relations with co-workers and family.
At MedSend, we seek to provide to our grant recipients that which Jesus provided to the disciples as He sent them to heal and care for the sick. Jesus trained, mentored, equipped, supported, and loved His disciples. Our goal is to do the same for every MedSend Grant Recipient.
MedSend is a partner to the vast majority of mission-sending agencies that send healthcare professionals to the mission field. We are in a unique position to observe and support the needs of a wide-ranging expanse of mission healthcare workers.
Current State of Affairs
Here is what we are seeing today:
- Some of our sending agencies have no member care at all.
- Most of our sending agency partners have some form of member care.
- From research MedSend has undertaken, we see that 80% of sending agencies do not provide member care designed to meet the specific, high-stress needs of healthcare missionaries.
- A few of the larger sending agencies have a healthcare member care team, but they acknowledge room for improvement.
- Beyond the sending agencies, the leadership of hospitals must also have a proper emphasis on member care; however, many do not.
- The Holy Spirit is drawing more and more healthcare missionaries to difficult and dangerous countries. Accessing these countries comes at a price. These last and most difficult places to access also tend to be under-resourced, in poor health, often dangerous, and involve significant spiritual battle. In other words, they are perfect incubators for missionary burn-out.
- Much of the lack of member care support and specific healthcare missionary support is due to a lack of resources for the small percentage of their missionaries who are in the healthcare field.
The MedSend Longevity Project: A Three-Pronged Approach
After many years of research and discovery, we have created a three-pronged strategy to address the professional, spiritual, and relational needs of today’s healthcare missionary.
Providing Coaches /Mentors
Today, if you accept a MedSend grant, you will agree to be assigned a coach/mentor (C/M).
It will be your responsibility to reach out to the C/M once a month for 24 months. In an ideal scenario, you will speak to them for 12 months as you prepare to go and then for another 12 months as you acclimate to the field.
For the foreseeable future, the C/M will be MedSend alumni who have served time in the field and are now back in the States. MedSend is providing specific healthcare-related coach/mentoring training to these individuals. Ongoing support and training will also be provided throughout their time as a C/M. We are hopeful that not only will short-term guidance be provided, but also that long-term support relationships and friendships will be created.
Annual stress reporting
During the last 20 years, MedSend has required an annual report from its grant recipient missionaries. The reports have focused on current roles, relationships, evangelism, and well-being.
Starting in 2021, we will be including a self-administered stress evaluation test provided by Godspeed Resources Counseling (GRC). The results are confidential and sent directly to GRC. Mental health professionals will then evaluate each assessment on a “red-yellow-green” scale.
The red and yellow groups are contacted directly by a member of the GRC staff via Zoom. MedSend will pay for the initial consultation. A yellow indicator requires at least a consultation call. A red indicator requires some form of follow-up on the part of the missionary. Suggestions may include reaching out to their sending agency, scheduling additional Zoom calls with GRC, or in limited cases, coming back to the US to seek help.
In-person gathering of healthcare missionaries
Today there is nowhere for healthcare missionaries to gather and share their challenges, difficulties, needs, and even successes with others in the same profession. MedSend grant recipients are now required to attend a conference every other year that will be focused on their individual, professional, spiritual, and relational health. We plan to bring pastoral, family/marital, youth, and mental health counselors together with the healthcare missionary to focus on their unique needs and stressors.
We will hold one conference primarily for those serving in Africa, one for the Asia and Pacific Rim, and another for the South and Central Americas and Caribbean regions. Conferences will be held every other year in locations convenient to each group. MedSend, through our partner Alongside Counseling, will provide lodging and meals, counselors, and the agenda. The individual missionary will be responsible for transportation.
We are currently in the process of working with researchers at Gordon Conwell Seminary to create a baseline of healthcare missionary longevity over the last 25 years. Going forward, we will measure what impact we are having as the project progresses.
Please pray with us as we undertake this important work. If you are led to support this initiative, please donate here:
Healthcare remains the only form of access as a Christian witness in many countries.
Your gift helps activate the movement of God's people to the field. Will you join us in ensuring that eager Christ-following health professionals are able to serve the Lord through global healthcare missions.