A professional virtues–based ethical framework for medical missions

Elsevier, AJOG Global Reports, Volume 1, Issue 4, 2021, 100017,
William Onyebeke, Tochi Iroku-Malize, Laurence B. McCullough, Amos Grünebaum, Frank A. Chervenak


More than 1.6 million physicians participate in medical missions each year. This effort is part of a long history of volunteerism and service to those in need in the form of medical missions to low-income countries. The Children's Health International Medical Project of Seattle has provided the following 7 guiding principles of sustainable short-term international medical missions: “mission, collaboration, education, service, teamwork, sustainability, and evaluation.” The role of professional virtues in grounding these principles and thus guiding medical missions is underappreciated.


To provide a professional virtues–based ethical framework for medical missions, this article addressed the question, “How should physicians design and implement a medical mission in a professionally responsible way?” Reference is made to one of the authors’ experiences as a point of reference.


The authors addressed the questions on how to design and implement a medical mission based on 5 professional virtues: compassion, integrity, humility, self-effacement, and self-sacrifice. A concise, historically based explanation of each virtue was provided, and the implications of the aforementioned principles for medical missions were identified.


Compassion motivates the mission and its team members, whereas integrity, humility, self-effacement, and self-sacrifice guide team members as they act on the professional virtue of compassion.


These 5 professional virtues can be used to provide a practical framework for the professionally responsible design and implementation of medical missions.