Looking good but doing harm? Perceptions of short-term medical missions in Nicaragua

Elysée Nouvet, McMaster University
Elizabeth Chan, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Lisa J. Schwartz, McMaster University


© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. In this paper, we present findings from a qualitative study that gathered Nicaraguans’ perceptions of short-term foreign medical missions, towards deepening the understanding of what Nicaraguans value or find limited in the work of such foreign missions operating in their country. Fifty-two interviews were conducted with patients, relatives of patients, Nicaraguan physicians and nurses who partnered with or observed missions at work, ‘beneficiary’ community leaders, and individuals who were unable or unwilling to access mission-provided healthcare. Factors underlying participants’ positive and more critical accounts of foreign primary and surgical missions are described and analysed. Empirical investigation on how, whether or not, or on what bases short-term medical missions (STMs) have been perceived as beneficial, harmful, or otherwise by those on the receiving end of these efforts is limited. This study aims to contribute to the evidence base for reflecting on the ethical performance of trans-national STMs.