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Study Abroad

Are Medical Mission Trips Worth It?

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About Aldridge

Aldridge is a recent graduate of Indiana University and finished with a B.S. degree in Human Biology, as well as a Religious Studies minor. Aldridge is currently applying to med schools in his gap year and is planning to start his journey to become a physician in fall of 2022

What is a medical mission trip?

Medical mission trips can be a fantastic way to really show that you are a person of service, and also that you are someone who is willing to leave your comfort zone and provide direct help to a community that needs it. Not affiliated with a religion, as is commonly assumed, but instead a school or university, I’ve seen these trips travel to impoverished areas in Central or South America, bringing medical supplies and a young set of volunteers ready to apply their skills to help build affordable housing and aid the local people in any way possible. As a recently graduated pre-med myself, I’ve had countless friends travel to Nicaragua, Venezuela, and other countries for medical mission trips, so here is my advice on whether they are worth it:

What are the downsides of a medical mission trip?

There are, admittedly, a few downsides of a medical mission trip. Primarily most people will be concerned with the cost. Airfare and lodging are not cheap, and if you throw in extra money that is needed for clothes and personal expenses, this can turn into a hefty cost. In fact, many of these trips are comparable in price to an Atlantis-sponsored shadowing program, which provides dedicated clinical shadowing hours abroad, so it’s important to consider all options and choose the best opportunity to gain valuable pre-med experience abroad. Mission trips alsooften require vaccinations and personal medications specific to the country you will be traveling to. This should not come as a dealbreaker by any means, but it is definitely an additional cost and responsibility to consider. Different resources can help you effectively plan and budget for these medical mission trips and make them more affordable for your situation. Many universities also offer need-based scholarships to those wanting to go on these trips, so I’d urge you to look at ways to save money there as well. On top of that, I will mention that a lot of mission trips have been criticized for having a ‘white savior complex’ aspect to them. This is clearly a negative thing, so be sure to treat the people and the country with the utmost respect when you travel on a medical mission trip.

Positives of medical mission trips

Sometimes it’s nice to hear about the bad before the good, and while medical mission trips can be expensive among other issues, there are many positives to them as well. The first benefit of medical mission trips is that you are providing help and assistance to people who have a genuine need for medical aid. Opportunities like Atlantis overseas trips can be amazing to show the differences between types of medical infrastructure and services in countries with similar standards of care to the U.S., but mission trips are different. The satisfaction from delivering medical supplies to an area that would be considered very underserved is worthwhile in itself and is really a feeling that is unmatched. On top of that, you will be able to have an experience that shows you are committed to helping people through medicine, and is also a great option for clinical exposure. Future admissions committees will be looking for opportunities like this in your application, and medical mission trips can be extremely helpful when your time to interview for medical school comes!

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Two Atlantis alumni admitted to the Harvard Medical School MD and Stanford School of Medicine MD programs wrote our widely read medical school admissions guidebook — download yours.

Our Alumni Enter Great Medical Schools

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John Daines

  • Atlantis '17
  • Brigham Young University '19
  • Washington U. in St. Louis MD '23
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Zoey Petitt

  • Atlantis '17
  • U. of Arizona '18
  • Duke MD '23
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Yong-hun Kim

  • Atlantis '17
  • Stanford '19
  • Mayo Clinic MD '24
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Megan Branson

  • Atlantis '18
  • U. of Montana '19
  • U. of Washington MD '24
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Sarah Emerick

  • Atlantis '19
  • Eckerd College '20
  • Indiana U. MD '25
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Elorm Yevudza

  • Atlantis '16
  • Amherst '19
  • Columbia MD '24
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Tiffany Hu

  • Atlantis '16
  • U. of Maryland '17
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Lauren Cox

  • Atlantis '18
  • Louisiana Tech '20
  • U. of Arkansas MD '24
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Kayla Riegler

  • Atlantis '18
  • U. of Kentucky '20
  • U. of Kentucky MD '24

About Atlantis

Atlantis is the leader in pre-health shadowing and clinical experience, offering short-term programs (1-10 weeks) over academic breaks for U.S. pre-health undergraduates. Medical schools want 3 things: (1)healthcare exposure, (2)GPA/MCAT, and (3)certain competencies. Atlantis gives you a great version of (1), frees you to focus on (2), and cultivates/shows (3) to medical school admissions committees.

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Cover of the Medical School Admissions Guide.
Two Atlantis alumni admitted to the Harvard Medical School MD and Stanford School of Medicine MD programs wrote our widely read medical school admissions guidebook — download yours.