There are plenty of articles describing how traveling makes you a better person, but here I’m going to suggest that travel makes you a better doctor. I don’t necessarily think you need to work as a physician in another country to pick up on some of these.
1. Travel makes you more creative
A study by the Academy of Management looked at fashion labels and their creative directors’ experiences abroad. They looked at 11 seasons of fashion lines and found those that worked abroad, or had more international experiences, churned out more creative lines that were found to be innovative and useful by external audiences.
This study looked at the fashion industry, where creativity is the driving fuel for their livelihoods, however being creative as a physician has benefits as well. I think of it as becoming better at thinking outside of the box. We always learn that patients don’t fit textbooks. However, many times they also don’t fit our prejudices. Which brings me to the next point:
2. Travel helps you let go of prejudices
We learn to link race and age to certain diagnoses in medical school. It’s a part of learning the “buzzwords” and key links that allow you to pick out the right answers on exams (see more about that here).
While these “links” aren’t necessarily incorrect, it can blind us to treating certain patients only within those prejudiced parameters. This in turn can lead to delayed diagnoses and delayed treatments. Also, how many times have you seen a foreign name on your patient list and made an instant judgement about them? Or made an instant assumption?
When you see for yourself how people in other countries live, experience aspects of their culture and interact with them naturally, and realize that what you learned in school or see in the media is not entirely accurate, then you can start to let go of your prejudices and just approach each person as just another person.
3. Exposure to different cultures
We live in a crazy world that keeps getting smaller and smaller. Anyone, anywhere, at anytime, has access and the means to go abroad. No matter where you may work, you are bound to run into patients from parts of the world that you may not have been to. Going to those areas isn’t even necessary; what is necessary is that you recognize, and be cognizant of differences in culture.
Cultural, and religious, beliefs can be a driving factor in some patients’ decision-making, and I think that its important that we acknowledge and express understanding of that for our patients.
4. Brush up on your foreign language skills
Pretty self explanatory. Learning how to communicate better with your patients can only enhance the experience for the patient, decrease confusion and improve the informed consent process. Yes, interpreters have made life easier in this regard, but I’ve caught interpreter mistakes before and so have some of my colleagues. So, even if you aren’t fluent (I’m definitely not), knowing some basics does help.
5. Reminds you of why you became a doctor
Doctors are taught to work without complaint, work without breaks, and make numerous sacrifices in the name of patient care. Nowadays its worse because many physicians have no choice but to work all the time: they have loans to pay!
The culture in medicine has become so bad that depression is rampant and suicide rates have increased. I think a big problem is that we aren’t taught self care; we aren’t told that its ok to take a break; we aren’t reminded that the hospital will survive without us; that we shouldn’t be guilty for taking time for ourselves and putting ourselves first.
Travel is one way that can help you decompress. It can help you regain focus and remind you of why you do what you do. And it’s not just about being somewhere different physically; but sometimes seeing how some parts of the world are–poor, not as clean, fewer opportunities for it’s citizens–can put into perspective everything you DO have and give you a whole new sense of appreciation for your own life.
Then once you’re home, you’re well-rested, clear-headed, refreshed and motivated because you will have a fresh reminder of all the positives in your life, of why you chose your field and what you hope to accomplish within it.
What are some travel benefits you’ve seen in your own careers? Comment below!