Economic assessment of US physician participation in short-term medical missions

Paul H Caldron*, Ann Impens, Milena Pavlova, Wim Groot

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Short term medical missions (STMMs) are a form of unregulated and unsanctioned, grass roots, direct medical service aid from wealthier countries to low and middle income countries. The US leads the world in STMM activity. The magnitude of monetary and man power inputs towards STMMs is not clear. The objective of this study is to estimate the prevalence of physician participation in STMMs from the US and the related expenditures of cash and resources.

METHODS: An online survey solicited information on physician participation in STMMs. Responses regarding costs were aggregated to estimate individual and global expenditures.

RESULTS: Sample statistics from 601 respondent physicians indicate an increasing participation by US physicians in STMMs. Including opportunity cost, average total economic inputs for an individual physician pursuing an STMM exceed $11,000. Composite expenditures for STMM deployment from the US are estimated at near $3.7 billion annually and the resource investment equates with nearly 5800 physician fulltime equivalents.

CONCLUSIONS: STMM participation and mission numbers have been increasing in the millennium. The aggregate costs are material when benchmarked against formal US aid transfers. Understanding the drivers of physician volunteerism in this activity is thereby worthy of study and relevant to future policy deliberation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number45
Number of pages10
JournalGlobalization and Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22 Aug 2016


  • Medical missions
  • Short-term
  • Transnational aid


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