“We Have the Opportunity to Change a Nation’s Medical Infrastructure” — Dr. Jeffrey Schmidt on the Need For Medical Trips Abroad

Jager Weatherby on 26 Feb 2015 at 5:00pm

Dr. Schmidt in VietnamWorking as a plastic surgeon isn’t all about perfecting the bodies of the wealthy and famous (despite what the mainstream media might like to portray). For many of the doctors providing these services, the role comes with a sense of responsibility to give back to those in need, from children abroad born with facial deformities to families right here in America who lack affordable access to medical care.

Facial plastic surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Schmidt is one of these doctors. In 2010, he traveled with a group of surgeons on a medical trip to Vietnam, where he provided reconstructive surgery to children who otherwise never could have received care. During this mission, he also educated local doctors on the latest surgical techniques, leaving them able to provide further care after he and his team left.

Dr. Schmidt hopes to return to Vietnam and visit other countries in need of similar services, but he also realizes how much needs to be done here in the United States. “I know that there are a number of our own neighbors in need of reconstructive surgery who simply don't have the resources to pay for it, through no fault of their own,” he explains. At his Colorado-based practice, he waives surgeon’s fees for qualifying patients, including serviceman who have suffered facial injuries during combat and victims of domestic violence.

RealSelf caught up with Dr. Schmidt to learn more about his philanthropic efforts, and learn how average Americans can make the biggest impact, even without surgical skills.

RealSelf: What inspired you to go on your medical trip to Vietnam?
Dr. Schmidt:
I'm half Vietnamese, and so I've always wanted to take a trip to the "mother land." I learned about a great opportunity through a colleague of mine that’s set up to help not only the patients in Vietnam, but also the surgeons that care for them. The education in Vietnam is not on the same level as the United States, and the surgeons benefit greatly from the training that we bring them. The knowledge that’s passed on has the greatest overall influence on the people of the country and is in keeping with the "teach a man to fish" philosophy. It's truly incredible to see how impactful this knowledge can be.

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Dr. Schmidt and Vietnamese Doctors
RealSelf: Did you have one patient in particular who left a lasting impression on you?
Dr. Schmidt: The people of Vietnam in general made quite the impression. There was no sense of entitlement there. Rather, they were incredibly humble, welcoming, and appreciative of any help that we could offer. The gratitude was palpable, and this without a doubt is the reason I cannot wait to go back.

RealSelf: What you do think we take for granted in America that you wish others could see through your eyes?
Dr. Schmidt: I think we take for granted the technologies and the comforts that we’ve come to expect in today's modern US healthcare facilities. The following observations were noted in Vietnam's largest and most modern children's hospital: Rather than return home on oral antibiotics following surgery, patients would stay in the hospital to have their (simple) wounds treated daily with antiseptic solution. Patients and their families sat on sheets on the floors of the hallways, not on couches or chairs. No hand soap was available at any sink in the hospital except for the one outside of the operating room. Hand sanitizer is nearly nonexistent, including inside of hospitals.I found it only in one supermarket of all the places I visited in the country. Air conditioning is not always readily available. Also, nearly all restrooms are notably BYOTP (bring your own toilet paper)!

RELATED: "In Less Than 2 Hours, You Can Change a Child's Life" — Dr. Mike Majmundar on Giving Back to Those in Need

RealSelf: What message would you give to young doctors about making time for this kind of work?
Dr. Schmidt: I would advise all physicians to make at least one medical mission trip abroad. Fundraising and grants can help to defray the cost of these mission trips, as they’re typically paid for by the physician, and doing so can be challenging early in one's career when debt may pose an obstacle. The experience and education we have in the US can directly impact patients oversees, and even go so far as to positively change the nation's medical infrastructure. The experience for physicians is wonderful in that it teaches them to accomplish more with fewer resources, provides them the gratification of helping others at the international level, and allows them to develop a greater appreciation for our advanced healthcare system in the US.

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Dr. SchmidtAbout Dr. Jeffrey Schmidt

Dr. Jeffrey L. Schmidt is a facial plastic surgeon based in Englewood, Colorado. As a board-certified surgeon and an expert of facial anatomy, Dr. Schmidt offers treatments that rewind the proverbial clock and enhance areas of the face that are of concern to his patients. He’s a developed a particular niche in facelift, eyelid lift, skin resurfacing, nasal reshaping surgery, and may be regarded as the “go-to” surgeon for facial rejuvenation surgery. Learn more at his website.