Feed my travel habit while I'm stuck at home.
April 22, 2007 7:48 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for quality information about medicine, life in Third World countries, Doctors Without Borders and similar organizations, travel, expat experiences, etc.

I'm set on becoming a doctor, and since I adore travelling, I've started thinking of all the fun ways I can combine the two.
Since I'm only just finishing my first year of undergrad, I have a lot of time to get rid of my idealistic notions of what such a lifestyle is like. I'm looking for great books, movies, websites, TV shows, magazines, blogs, etc, that cover these topics. How-to type books would be amazing, but any good fiction is also welcome.

I'm hoping to get enough reading material to keep busy this summer!
posted by snoogles to Education (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Where There Is No Doctor and Where There is No Dentist are the first books that came to mind when I saw your question- they're not exactly what you're looking for but might be of interest. The links above point to places you can download the books in their entirety for free, but they're also available for purchase in hard copy at Amazon.
posted by andihazelwood at 8:24 PM on April 22, 2007

2nd the above recommendation. the organization that publishes those books (among others) seems really interesting. they have projects all over the world bringing medicine to areas that don't have much AND empowering/training local people to do a lot of the work. another book from them that's pretty interesting is Helping Health Workers Learn, which is about formerly uneducated people learning to do health work. i thought it was a very interesting read.
posted by lgyre at 9:29 PM on April 22, 2007

Best answer: Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder.

Desowitz is supposed to be good, I haven't read his stuff.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:39 PM on April 22, 2007

(Also, a hugely useful thing you could do would be to keep up, or pick up, your Spanish and French skills during the summer!)
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:43 PM on April 22, 2007

Best answer: Touched By Fire and the five or so books listed under "Customers who bought this item also bought" provide quite vivid and positive accounts of MSF and MSF-esque development work. There are other, much more cynical, accounts, but you may as well start with the positive stuff. MSF and Partners in Health are organizations with an explicit social justice framework, so you might also want to read some of the foundational literature on that, so see if it appeals to you. (Hopefully someone else can recommend the specific books -- beyond Paulo Freyre and the prominent liberation theologists, this isn't stuff I've read.) If you want to read a US-based perspective, focusing more on education than medicine (but there are lots of overlaps, and the focus on social justice is the same), you should read the books of Jonathan Kozol.

Long-term, if you are serious about this, you will want to pick up French and Spanish (and ideally something like Arabic or Swahili) to expand where you can work. You will need to get some time on the ground in developing countries, to prove that you can handle difficult living and social situations (summer programs during college are a great place to start). And you will want to choose your medical school and specialty with some care -- not all aspects of contemporary medical education translate well into the sort of work you are contemplating.

Most of all you need to think through your motivations (and you have the next ten years or so to do so, so there's no rush). MSF and a couple of similar organizations have, as I mentioned, a social justice approach, emphasizing witnessing (in much the way Quakers use the term) as much as they do direct service (and nurses do most of the service, with very few doctors involved). Most medical development groups have a much firmer focus on direct service, less on deeper issues of social justice, and that approach may appeal more to you. You will also need to be realistic in terms of finances -- if you will be financing both undergrad and medical schools with loans, your ability to go off and play Dr Livingston for a year or two will be limited by your need to make huge student loan payments, and instead you might consider doing frequent short-term volunteering stints.
posted by Forktine at 3:21 AM on April 23, 2007

Best answer: The Dressing Station by Jonathon Kaplan - a non-fiction account of a surgeon's life travelling the world.. he worked at various times for regular hospitals in England in the 60s, under the radar aid organisations in Burma, as a cruise ship doctor in SE Asia, as a researcher in a highly funded US hospital... it's quite medically focussed, sort of an examination of the art of healing... highly recommended.
posted by Onanist at 5:50 AM on April 23, 2007

Response by poster: I already do speak french and spanish, but I was considering learning arabic, and knowing that it would be useful is an added motivation. I've also spent a year living in Peru, so I've got a basic idea of what living in a third-world country is like. I'm planning of doing as much such travelling and volunteering as I can afford in the future.

The whole issue of social justice as an approach is something I hadn't thought about, but it's definitely worth exploring. What seemed interesting about MSF is that they do give you enough money to cover your rent/mortgage/loan payments while you are away. So you're not actively making money, but you're not losing any either. I guess that's another thing I have plenty of time to think about.

This mark as best answer feature is just not fair, as these are all great recommendations. Keep them coming!
posted by snoogles at 6:51 AM on April 23, 2007

Best answer: Hope in Hell is about MSF. It's pretty good light reading.

Pathologies of Power is more along the lines of social justice issues and is written by Dr. Paul Farmer (subject of Mountains beyond Mountains suggested above). It is a bit heavier but is one of my favourites.
posted by madokachan at 8:40 AM on April 23, 2007

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