Physician heal thyself? No, but help at hand


A new SIM-wide team is being set up to help medical missionaries better cope with the stresses of life in the field. SIM Malawi says au revoir to Dave and Margie Burgess as they return to the USA to be part of the ‘Member Care’ element new team

Life on the mission field can, at times, be tough. Unreliable power and water supplies, inadequate schooling for kids, and general everyday problems of getting to grips with a new culture, new language and so on can take its toll. For medical missionaries, this can be exacerbated by a lack of equipment and the overwhelming nature of the work. To help counter this, SIM International and SIM USA have established a new team to help mentor medical missionaries across the SIM world.

Under the direction of Paul Hudson, the new team will be made up of people who themselves have had first-hand experience of life as a medical missionary on the field.

“The new team will help people who are already serving on the mission field and will also be instrumental in preparing new medical missionaries as they get ready to go out for the first time,” said Dave.

Go, Thrive, Stay

“It is very much the idea of ‘get to the field, stay on the field, thrive on the field’! We will be helping people to be able to survive the bumps on the road as they develop their ministry overseas.”

Working with people already on the mission field will be important, as the team looks to act as mentors across the world. But preparing people before they go will be of equal importance, as Margie explained.

Margie working iinthe offices of the Cure Hospital in Blantyre

Before they go

“We hope that we can get people who are preparing to go to the field to have a better understanding of what they will face,” she said.

“They may already be having a tough time trying to raise support to enable them to move into the mission field, and I hope that people like Dave and me, who have gone through that process, can help to ease the way. Also, we have experience of what life can be like for a medical missionary on the field and we hope we will be able to add to their understanding.”

Dave is an orthopaedic surgeon and Margie is a physiotherapist with experience in hospital administration. They sum up the new team well as it is not just for doctors and nurses but also for therapists, dentists and other healthcare professionals who may be preparing to go or already serving overseas.

“One of the big problems for medical missionaries, possibly more so than other missionaries, is burn-out,” said Dave.

“We know this can affect anyone, but the added pressures on medical missionaries can be intense. You may go to the field from the USA or Europe where you are used to hospitals which have excellent facilities and equipment. The reality in the field will be somewhat different.

Dave (left) in theatre at Cure Hospital in Bantyre

At the end of the day

“Also, you may find it hard to walk out at the end of the day when there are still 100 or more people who are desperate to see a doctor or therapist or whoever. This, in turn, puts pressure on relationships, and the family may start to suffer, which places additional burdens on to the medical missionary.

“We hope to be able to prepare people for this, and to be a listening ear for those who are experiencing these situations now.”

Not counsellors or psychologists

Dave and Margie are keen to point out that in this new role they will not be counsellors or psychologists but people available for colleagues to contact with questions or just to unload problems and to have someone to talk to.

“The team is at an early stage of development and so things are still fairly fluid,” said Margie.

“We have some ideas of what we will do but going back to the USA will help us to firm things up, and that is important for me. Dave is more of a big vista person but I like things more organised and settled, and I hope we can be both!”

For Dave, the transition to the new team may be harder because it will mean he has to lay down his scalpel after many years as a surgeon.

“Often medical missionaries feel their identity as a person is in what they do,” he said.

Our identity in Christ

“I don’t want to be that kind of person, and I hope that we can help others to see that our identity is in Christ, not in being a surgeon or dentist or therapist or whatever our specialty is. I think this will be an important aspect of the new team’s work.”

Prayer points

Dave and Margie would value prayer for:

1. The transition back into life in the USA

2. Re-establishing contact with their home church and with family and friends

3. Wisdom and direction for the new role, and having an impact on people preparing to go and on those already in the field, so that the work of the Kingdom of God goes forward