I’m a resident physician. Should I get more clinical experience here before I go overseas? What about an MPH? Should I do a fellowship in infectious disease? Can a physician be “too” trained?

“Yes, you can have too much formal training!”

You probably don’t need to get more experience in the U.S. Despite what our culture says, there really is a time to stop training and get started in missions! 

The longer you are in the American culture, the more attached and entangled you will become. Look at Medsend to pay your student loans; they can make the loan payments as long as you are working in a third world country.

Yes, a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree would be great, but you’ll learn more if you get it after you have been on the field for a few years. 

A fellowship in infectious disease is certainly not necessary, but consider taking the Tropical Medicine short course at West Virginia University. John Hopkins and the London School of Tropical Medicine offer the same course but they charge much more. 

Another thing to do is to read every missionary biography/autobiography that you can. Visit the CMDA bookstore and get everything you can by Paul Brand, John Patrick, and Tom Hale, and others. That teaching I use every day.

Answer from David, an physician internist who has served for five year in Honduras and coordinates the medical aspects of several community development groups.

“Go overseas right after residency.”

All of the possibilities for further training are good ideas, but I strongly advise you to go overseas first, for one term at least, and then decide which additional training and qualification will be most useful and take it on a home leave. 

The more training you have, the narrower your options for service, and the greater the temptation to feel you are too highly qualified to “waste” your good education overseas. (Even if you don’t think in this way, there are plenty of others who will counsel you in that manner.)

Once you complete your residency, plan to get overseas as quickly as possible.

Answer from Cynthia Hale, an MD who served in Nepal under the United Mission to Nepal.

“Go now and get further training later.”

You can get the clinical experience in your overseas setting. You don’t need a MPH (unless you don’t like clinical medicine). You can pick up tropical medicine from a book and online rather than taking a nine-month course on the subject. West Virginia University has shorter courses in tropic medicine. 

I have not seen a missionary physician who thought he had had too much training before he went … but it is possible to spend your entire life in study.

Answer from Harold Adolph, an MD who served in three Ethiopian hospitals over thirty years.

“Don’t allow training to restrict your scope of practice.”

A physician may be “too trained” if he allows that training to limit the scope of what he does! I have seen those who were trained in chest surgery but felt it somehow NOT their domain to do a bowel resection or to rod a femur. 

As for clinical experience, you can go straight from residency if it is a good residency. A fellowship in infectious diseases may be helpful almost anywhere you go, but a diploma of tropical medicine and hygiene (DTM&H) from England may be even better.

Answer from Donn, an MD who retired from ABWE (Association of Baptists for World Evangelism) after twenty-six years in Bangladesh.

“Go sooner, train later.”

The best training for the mission field is the mission field itself. You really won’t know what skills you need (or maybe even what skills you want) until you have been there for at least a year or two. 

I practiced in a mission hospital for two years, then enrolled in a correspondence MPH program to give me the understanding I need for our hospital’s immunization, TB and HIV programs as well as working in the larger health system.

Distance learning programs allow you to continue serving in the field while taking on additional training. Getting more and more specialized in the US may be more likely to prevent you going than really changing your impact in the mission field.

Answer from Mark in Papua New Guinea, who has served with MercyShips, In His Image International, and GlobalServ.

“Do what you love and be who God made you to be.”

When I was in medical school and residency, I thought that family medicine was the way to go so I could reach the most people. In creative access countries, however, having specialized expertise is actually very helpful to get a job and be valued and to have the local officials want to keep you (despite the obvious fact, in my case, that I am an enthusiastic disciple of Jesus who does not keep his mouth shut!) 

Practicing infectious diseases, public health, tropical medicine and traveler’s health is the most exciting part of medicine for me. I would not be happy as a generalist. Do what you want, since God made you and your desires and interests, and he will guide you to overseas service where and when he wills.

Answer from Jason in China, who has served there since 2007.

“Get broad training and go.”

I almost switched from internal medicine to a family practice residency because I am interested in all of medicine and want to be the most useful in helping a broad range of health issues. Instead, I got the broadest training I could in infectious diseases, public health, tropical medicine, research, and tertiary clinical care. I find myself well trained and respected as a young leader in a rural county health department as I prepare to go overseas.

Keep in mind that the purpose of medical missions is more mission, not medicine per se. If you have a strong humanitarian focus, you can be a righteous secular humanist and help with medicine all you want! What makes medical missionaries different is the Holy Spirit empowering them to see how God is working, join with him, and share Jesus with everyone they meet.

Answer from Jason who is going into overseas medical missions a year from now with the Christian and Missionary Alliance.

“You don’t have to know everything.”

Mission fields are full of opportunities. You may find yourself being a lecture/trainer and not practicing medicine. If possible, it is wise to have a little knowledge about everything. You do not have to know everything. Empowering and training nationals can have a wider and deeper impact on the people you want to serve.

Answer from David, an oral surgeon who served in Africa for ten years and has now been in Asia for four years.

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