Volunteer Surgical Program
Thank you for your interest in volunteering with Esperanca’s Volunteer Surgery Program. We have been sending volunteer surgery teams to developing countries since 1974 to serve the poor, whose surgical needs would otherwise go untreated.
An average of 10 surgical teams travel to Nicaragua each year as volunteers with our program. Currently, we send only surgeons in the following specialties: general, gynecology, plastic, ophthalmologic, orthopedic, pediatric, ENT, and urology. A surgical team primarily consists of the lead surgeon, an anesthesiologist, and an OR nurse or tech. The lead surgeon usually assembles their own team, but we can also help match volunteers with a lead surgeon.
We have partnered staff in the host country as well as the assistance of local physicians who volunteer their time to our volunteer surgical mission program. Surgical trips are scheduled anywhere from four months to two years in advance. The team typically operates 5-7 full days and has the option to lead educational presentations to the medical residents and local physicians a few evenings during their stay. The duration of the trip is dictated by surgical specialty and the lead surgeon’s availability (either one or two weeks of surgery); volunteers should allow for a full day of travel on the outbound and return.
Volunteers pay for their air travel, food and lodging which can range from $1,000 to $1,500. Esperanca provides transportation in-country, and associated costs for the surgeries (facility, staffing, lab work, medication, etc.).
After you review the materials below, please contact us if you would like be a part of a surgical mission, and begin the volunteer application process! You may contact Charlie, Surgical Program Coordinator at 602-252-7772 ext.114 or via email.
Thank you again for your interest in Esperança’s Volunteer Surgical Program.
Country and Region:
Nicaragua: Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America, located between the countries of Honduras and Costa Rica. The country is divided into three geographical regions, each boasting its own set of history and culture, and ranging from sunny ocean beaches to mountainous cloud rainforest. The population is composed mainly of Mestizos and Amerindian ethnic groups. Nicaragua is a developing nation and is the poorest country in Central America. Spanish is the primary language.
Esperanca’s surgical program is located in the northern region, in the state of Jinotega. The city of Jinotega is at an elevation of about 1,000 meters and has a population of approximately 300,000. This is an upland region away from the Pacific coast, with a cooler climate than other regions in the country. Its weather is mild and pleasant. About a quarter of the country’s agriculture takes places in this region with coffee grown on higher slopes. Jinotega is the site of AVODEC headquarters (the local non-profit organization with whom we partner). Our surgical program operates out of the government regional hospital, Hospital Victoria Motta, located in the heart of the city.
We consider every volunteer an ambassador and representative of our organization. We expect ethical, professional, and considerate behavior from all our volunteers during their entire mission (working and non-working hours). Our volunteers’ positive attitude and flexible behavior impacts the continuation and reputation of our program. Our goal for our surgical volunteers is for them to work in the environment in which they are placed with local physicians, administration and the native people, effectively and harmoniously.
Teams average 25-30 surgeries per 1 week mission (may vary per specialty). Potential complications of schedule can include: reduced operating room access, substitution of local medical staff for team assistants and/or performance of clinical work versus surgery. We believe that our volunteer surgical teams are in place to serve in whatever capacity possible, with graciousness and flexibility. All our volunteers want to be as effective as possible and perform the greatest number of surgeries possible, and meet our expectations for number of patients served through each mission. However, an integral part of our surgical mission program is the impact in training, education and the exchange of information with the local medical professionals. We ask for your assistance in maintaining this delicate balance.
Our volunteers work in a developing country with social norms that are much different from theirs. The volunteers are guests in the host country and at their facilities (none of the surgical facilities in which we work are our own). The lead surgeon may be shown deference over other team members, and the same may be true of male versus female team members. This is the impact of their cultural system and ingrained beliefs regarding respect.
The local people are a demonstrative people and may hug, kiss, or show other signs of appreciation. Each day will be filled with surgical time, clinical time, and educational time. A lunch hour is observed each afternoon and there may be a scheduled lunch celebration or other small social gatherings or dinners during your visit. These social activities are part of the hospitality the local people extend our volunteers. While most of our volunteers want to schedule as much surgical time as possible during their mission, it is important to engage in festivities organized in appreciation of the surgical team’s efforts as this is the culturally accepted behavior of the host country.
Our surgical volunteers operate at the Victoria Motta Hospital in Jinotega. The hospital and administrative staff are supportive of our volunteer teams. There are 2 operating rooms in the main hospital and 2 operating rooms in the ophthalmologic annex. During the week, our teams have use of the fully-equipped OR in the main hospital which is very spacious and has functioning cardiac monitors, occimeters, anesthesia machine, and a cautery unit.
Our volunteer surgeons usually recruit their own surgical team. A typical team consists of a surgeon, anesthesiologist, and an operating room tech/nurse. If a surgeon is not able to recruit their own team, we may be able to assist in the completion of the team, but only complete teams can execute a mission.
All visiting surgeons are paired with local surgeons from the host country. It is customary for the visiting surgeon to take the lead in the surgery process. Since we utilize local medical volunteers, the visiting team’s surgery tech/OR nurse may have to exercise flexibility in the operating process. This flexibility involves allowing the utilization of local medical volunteers during the operating process. It is possible that a PA or assisting surgeon would be supplanted by a local surgeon at the operating table. Esperança, Inc. encourages training opportunities for local medical counterparts, especially medical residents. Visiting surgeons are encouraged to teach and train the residents in the operating room. We must balance the quantity of surgical procedures with surgical experiences for local personnel.
We are unable to accommodate non-surgical personnel such as students, ancillary staff or family members on our surgical missions. Our resources are limited to licensed surgical volunteers only (MD, OD, DO, DPM, PA, CRNA, RN, BSN) and certified surgical technicians.
Our volunteer surgical program is in a developing country where medical care and the transportation to receive care can be insurmountable. We have found that patients that may present for a prescreening appointment weeks before the surgery visit may not be able to make the long return when the surgical mission team is in residence. Thus, we cannot provide a patient list prior to the team’s departure or specific information as to the types of surgeries that will be performed. Patients are gained through announcements alerting the local people that the visiting US surgeons will be in town. Some of the patients that do show up may be in need of clinical treatment rather than surgery; we ask that volunteers provide as much medical care/assistance as possible.
Shortly before the surgeries begin, the visiting surgeon, accompanied by local medical volunteers, will hold a clinic for all patients scheduled for surgery. Lab work and limited diagnostic testing is available. The visiting surgeon reserves the right to refuse surgical procedures for any patient. Our local staff are also very experienced in recruiting patients and selecting appropriate patients for each surgical specialty.
Types of Surgeries
Patients are selected based on specific criteria which include surgical specialty, need, age, health status, etc. The following are procedures that have been performed during previous missions:
|General Surgery||Hernia repair, cholecystectomy, saphenous vein stripping, appendectomy, thyroid/goiter removal|
|Gynecology||Incontinence – bladder repair (TVT, TOT) Hysterectomy, cystectomy, herniorrhaphy, colporrhaphy, tubal ligation,|
|Ophthalmology||Cataracts and pterygia|
|Orthopedic||Trauma, fracture repair|
|Plastic Surgery||Burn/injury reconstruction, cleft lip and palate repair|
|Urology||Prostate resection, radical prostatectomy|
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are answers to our most frequently asked questions. Any additional questions can be directed to Esperança’s Surgical Program Coordinator, Charlie via email.
I’m not a surgeon, anesthesiologist or surgical tech/OR nurse. Can I still volunteer?
I’m sorry but due to the limited size and scope of our program, we are unable to accommodate other non-surgical medical practitioners, residents, lay people, and students at this time.
What if I don’t have my own team?
If you are unable to form your own team, Esperança can add your name to our volunteer list. We will send out an email to those that expressed interest as volunteer opportunities become available. Due to the large volume of individuals who would like to volunteer, Esperança is not able to match all volunteers with a team right away. Please check in with us every few months to let us know if you are still interested.
How do we choose dates for our mission?
Esperança is very flexible with dates and times. At this time, Esperança sends 10 teams to Nicaragua. Each mission is usually 1 week. Teams typically leave on a Friday or Saturday from their hometown, start operating on Monday, and return on a Sunday. It is the team leader’s responsibility to coordinate dates for a mission. Once your team dates are finalized, we send your team’s dates to our in-country staff to ensure that local hospitals, staffing, and patients will be available for your mission.
How much will it cost?
Costs vary depending on the type of mission, duration of stay, travel season, and flight preferences (coach versus business class).
Volunteers traveling to Nicaragua are asked to cover the cost of their flights, lodging and meals. The average mission per person costs between $1,000 and $1,500.
Can I bring family or friends along to join me?
Family members, friends, students, or other individuals who would like to join a volunteer are able to join you on a case-by-case basis. Any individual who joins a surgical mission, but is not a volunteer, must cover 100% of their own expenses.
Do I need to make my own flight arrangements?
Esperança will make your flight arrangements. Based on your travel needs, we will provide you with a quote. Once you have approved the itinerary, your flight will be purchased. Esperança will then send you an invoice for the cost of the flight. Your payment to Esperança will be considered a tax-deductible donation. Volunteers can make their own arrangements, if preferred. Should you choose to do so, please send your itinerary to Esperança prior to purchase for review.
Do I need to make my own hotel arrangements?
Esperança will make your hotel arrangements. We have relationships with in-country hotels that are safe and comfortable. We also have negotiated rates with hotels to keep volunteer costs to a minimum. Each volunteer will have a private room with a private bath, hot water, and cable. There is also wi-fi in all the hotels we use.
What documents do I need to complete to start the volunteer process?
Please see the volunteer application for a list of documents that you will need to submit to become a volunteer. Once these documents are submitted to Esperança, they are sent to our host country in order to obtain approval for your mission from the local government. In order to process your application in a timely manner, please send your documents at least eight weeks prior to your mission’s departure.
What surgical supplies and medications should I bring?
Teams should bring any supplies and medications that they will need for their mission. A general list of items can be provided to you depending on your surgical specialty. Esperança can also provide you with a solicitation letter for businesses and colleagues. If you are not able to procure all the items, our local team may be able to obtain them prior to your mission. Most general supplies are able to be purchased in-country but supplies required for certain types of surgeries and some medications can be difficult due to cost or limited availability. If you aren’t able to find an item, please let us know beforehand.
Why do I need to send in a list of supplies with an estimated value?
We ask that each team, prior to their departure, send us a list of supplies with an estimated value. This is very important in helping us request a letter of support from the host country’s Consulate. A letter from the Consulate is given to your team’s leader prior to your departure to help your team efficiently pass through Customs. Please complete this list at least four weeks prior to your departure date in order to help us get this letter of support to you on time.
How should I go about applying for a visa?
Visas are not required for travel to Nicaragua.
Will we have trouble passing through Customs with all of our surgical supplies?
Most of our teams do not have any issues passing through customs in our host countries. Host countries are familiar with Esperança’s Surgical Program and are supportive of our work. Esperança obtains permission from the local government for each mission. A letter of support from the Consulate will be provided for each mission prior to your team’s departure date. Should any questions arise, please show the customs official this document. Contact information for our local offices will be provided to you in case local officials request additional information. In order for Esperança to obtain this letter from the Consulate, we must first receive a list of supplies and medications that your team will bring with you and an estimated value.
Will there be someone to pick us up at the airport?
Yes, our local team will welcome you at the airport of your mission site and provide transportation when you leave.
What is a typical mission week?
Our volunteer teams typically work Monday through Friday from morning (8am) till early evening (7pm). Breakfast is usually provided at the hotel. Lunch and dinner plans will be provided for you by our local team. Most hospitals and clinics where Esperança operates are closed on the weekends. During any breaks that your team may have, our local team may plan sight-seeing outings based on your preferences. This may include hiking, driving through villages, visiting a local winery and coffee plantation, or shopping.
What if I don’t speak Spanish?
Not a problem. Although speaking Spanish is helpful, it is not a requirement for our volunteers. A local bilingual staff member or volunteer will be available to help translate during your mission.
I’ve read over the information and would like to volunteer on a mission. Now what?
In order to start the application process, please email Esperança’s Surgical Program Coordinator, via email to discuss details about your interests and possible dates. Volunteers can recruit their own team (surgeon, MDA or CRNA, and surgical tech/OR nurse) or Esperança can try to match volunteers as we receive inquiries. Once your mission dates and team members are finalized, Esperança will provide you with the volunteer application and proceed with processing your documents. The application process includes that each team member send in copies of their license, diploma, CV, etc.