Medical Missions – International Volunteerism Reference Guide

Professional fulfillment is truly magnified when we give from who we are and what we have
to those who have a need.”

– W. Zack Taylor, MD

The ACG wishes to help our members who have an interest in volunteering their skills and training to underserved areas of the world. This reference guide is intended to serve as a starting point. Within these pages you will find links to humanitarian and faith-based groups, resources to help you in preparing to volunteer internationally, and inspiring stories from colleagues who have participated in medical missions abroad.

ACG Honors Richard T. McGlaughlin, MD, with the 2013 Community Service Award
Call to volunteer in Haiti after witnessing devastation from the earthquake

One week out of every month, Dr. Mac arrives at St. Luke’s Hospital bringing supplies, expertise and friendship to the staff at the hospital and the people of Haiti. Called to volunteer in Haiti after seeing the devastation from the 2010 earthquake and the cholera outbreak that followed, Richard T. McGlaughlin, MD, fondly called “Dr. Mac” by colleagues in Haiti, has devoted his time to serving the underserved there. Nominated by his colleagues in the U.S. as well as in Haiti, the College is proud to honor Dr. Richard T. McGlaughlin with the 2013 Community Service Award.

His efforts in Haiti are numerous. Seeing a need for a GI lab, Dr. McGlaughlin tells the story of how he approached Dr. Rick Freshette, the doctor who founded St. Luke’s Hospital, on the need for a GI clinic:

“We’d studied the medical records of inpatients at St. Luke’s – 45% of them had pyrosis or dyspepsia as a primary or secondary diagnoses at both admission and at discharge. This needed some clarification. I told Rick, ‘You need a GI department.’ I’ll fly in the equipment, set it up, and train one of your Haitian staff to do the work. It won’t cost you anything.’ ”

“He said, ‘You’re right. I DO need a GI lab.’ So we built it.”

His work at the hospital isn’t relegated to treating only GI patients. Dr. McGlaughlin tells the story of a young pregnant woman he treated on a late Saturday evening:

“At midnight, we admit a 25-year-old woman in a coma with a fever of 40.5°C, quietly exuding something from every orifice. Her lower belly is hard, she’s plenty big everywhere, but bigger there, she feels pregnant, and I can’t hear fetal heart tones here in Grand Central. But that’s what the elegant Sonolite Nanomaxx is for!

“Sure enough, it’s a boy, all four heart chambers squeezing along at 148, which I think is about right. Impressive – that temperature usually kills a fetus pretty quickly. Junior sucks his thumb, greedy for life. I love this machine. Live, Junior! Bide your time, get out of that hot oven, and kick ass.

“But the mother won’t cool off, and she won’t wake up. Before the night is done, I chill her IV fluids, and treat her for cerebral malaria, meningitis and urosepsis. She hangs on, and the morning feels like 10 rounds, no decision…time for bed.

“Back Sunday night, she is still hanging on, her temp 40.2°C, and the boy’s heart rate 148, tick, tick tock. Repeat the same, I think malaria should be a little better by now, the cholera is a little slower, but she still foams at the mouth, responds only to pain, and only a little. I catheterize her to see the urine, looks OK, need a microscope, need a lot of stuff. Just a month ago, I bragged to my partners about all the progress I can make with just a history and physical and intuition, but I’m cursing that process now. Admit it – we’re great seat-of-the-pants flyers only because we have attitude indicators.

“So I transferred her to Medicine sans Frontiers’ high risk OB hospital, freed up the bed, and now I’ll never know. I reckon we’ll lose track of her, or just lose her outright. Junior’s story may or may not unfold, may or may not be told.”

His efforts to help St. Luke’s and the people of Haiti go beyond the exam room. Dr. Mac also works tirelessly to obtain donations of equipment and supplies. A licensed pilot, most times he can be found bringing equipment and supplies to Haiti in his own plane. His many flights to Haiti are usually uneventful but on one trip, Dr. McGlaughlin, accompanied by his daughter, crashed into the ocean off the cost of the Bahamas. Luckily no one was hurt, but even a plane crash did not deter him from meeting his commitment. He flew to Miami and bought a commercial airline ticket to Haiti in order to serve.

Dr. McGlaughlin was born in Philadelphia, the sixth of seven children. His father, a WWII veteran, would talk about his service and times spent in India and flying over the Himalayas to resupply Chinese troops. His desire to travel the world was born.

Dr. McGlaughlin attended medical school at Penn State. Before he graduated in 1979, he was allowed to work in India for a few months. He trained in internal medicine at Baltimore City Hospitals, where he was afforded the opportunity to work with the Department of Geographic Medicine at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research (ICDDRB) in Bangladesh, where he learned about cholera.

Following his GI fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. McGlaughlin entered private practice in Birmingham, Alabama. Prior to his work in Haiti, he opened a GI lab in Cochabomba, Bolivia in 1995, and later went on to run a Mexican medical clinic in Birmingham in 2000.

Dr. McGlaughlin would like to recognize the generosity of his partners who support his time away from practice to volunteer, as well as his wife, Mary, and his four children, James, Elaine, Mara and Benjamin.

About the Community Service Award
The Community Service Award is bestowed upon an ACG Member who has initiated or been involved in numerous volunteer programs/activities or has provided significant volunteer service post-training. The service must have been performed on a completely voluntary basis and not for the completion of training or position requirements. Such service may include, but is not limited to, the following: Community educational programs (e.g., colon cancer awareness), working in free clinics, mentoring advocacy groups or local government committees, teaching in under-served schools related to health education, and political work on committees for comprehensive health insurance or other issues. To be eligible for the award, the nominee must be a member in good standing of the American College of Gastroenterology and may not be a member of the Awards Committee at the time of selection.

Donate Equipment and Supplies, Share Your Time, and Offer Financial Support
Dr. McGlaughlin and his colleagues at St. Luke’s Hospital need your help. The GI lab is in need of equipment and will accept used equipment. Scopes, monitors, coagulation equipment, heater probes, and more are needed. Biopsy forceps, snares, cleaning equipment and solutions are also welcome. The GI lab is currently using Olympus scopes (preferably 140s) and is also seeking older generation ERCP scopes. Technician support is also needed to ensure equipment and tools are receiving the necessary care for optimal utilization. Scope repair is also sought and an opportunity for scope repair for little or no cost would be ideal.

In addition to equipment, GI fellows in Haiti would benefit from the opportunity to visit and work, for a limited time, at an academic GI lab in the U.S. Funding to support this collaboration, as well as identifying one or more academic centers offering to help enhance fellows’ training is needed.

Additionally, if you would like to devote your time, like Dr. McGlaughlin, and help serve alongside colleagues at St. Luke’s, contact Dr. McGlaughlin at Those wishing to provide financial support to St. Luke’s Hospital may do so at