I didn’t know what to expect,” says Roy Morris, CBET, director of clinical engineering at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Medical Center in Little Rock. “I walked in the door—this was in Odessa, Ukraine—and they had one monitor, one ventilator, and boxes and boxes of stuff. And we were supposed to operate on 20 to 25 kids with that.”

Haitian Market
Roy Morris working as a respiratory therapist

Carl Porter
Opthlamic device explained by Robyn Frick

Top Left: A Friday market in Haiti close to the hospital where Larry Walsh worked.(photo courtesy of Larry Walsh) Top Right: There was no respiratory therapist, so Roy Morris was asked to do the job. “Thankfully, I have a good understanding of ventilators and have been thrown into this position before,” he says.(photo courtesy of Roy Morris) Bottom Left: Carl Porter in Haiti.(photo courtesy of Carl Porter) Bottom Right: On a mission for ORBIS International in Syria, Robyn Frick (R) explains the function of an ophthalmic device. (photo courtesy of ORBIS International)

Morris was on a medical mission, one of many he has taken as a volunteer biomed. This particular mission was with the International Children’s Heart Foundation (ICHF), based in Memphis, Tenn. The organization aims to reduce undiagnosed and untreated congenital heart disease in pediatric populations of developing countries. Its efforts include direct care, such as on-site surgery, as well as the provision of resources, including equipment, medications, and training, to medical professionals in those regions. Morris participated as a clinical engineer, there to get equipment running and keep it running—which is what he did.

The main clinical lab at General Hospital HUEH in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (photo courtesy of Carl Porter)

A patient with a bad leg infection needed to be in traction, but they didn’t have one. Using a welder and some steel he found in an old shop in back, Roy Morris made one. There was no paint, so he used duct tape to cover it. (photo courtesy of Roy Morrison)

A local mode of transportation in Haiti. (photo courtesy of Larry Walsh)

By the time he left, just days later, the facility had eight working ventilators and 22 monitors. “Sometimes, you have to put blinders on, focus on the task at hand, and try to do the best you can, knowing you won’t have everything there is to have and making do with what you’ve got,” Morris says.

Sometimes, however, a clinical/biomedical engineer volunteering on a medical mission will know exactly what he or she will be walking into. The first trip for Larry Walsh, a BMET II at Provena St Mary’s Hospital in Kankakee, Ill, was one of a progressive series of trips with the TriMedx Foundation, Indianapolis, to certain Haitian facilities. Early trips focused on inventory and troubleshooting; later trips targeted repair, maintenance, and training of local personnel. “I was able to look at a list of the equipment that needed to be worked on to make sure I had the equipment I needed to take care of it,” Walsh says.

Despite the different experiences, both men enjoyed the same feeling of reward upon completion of those first trips and now regularly volunteer time on medical missions. “The benefit is knowing that you’re able to do something for somebody less fortunate,” Walsh says.

Biomeds who participate in medical missions often echo this motivation, even though their volunteer experiences are as varied as their personal backgrounds and professional resumes. But just as they share a desire to do good things, there are other similar threads that run through their stories.

The First Step

“Well, you get out of college, and you want to make a career and have a family. And you climb the corporate ladder, and then …,” says Robyn W. Frick, CCE, biomedical engineer with Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. Then something happens—or nothing happens—and the realization occurs that there may be another way to contribute.

For Frick, a physician approached the shared service company where he was employed for help repairing an EKG machine she wanted to take back to the Philippines. When it came time to invoice her, Frick tore up the bill. “It was such an insignificant amount of money for us, but a lot to help them turn things around,” he says. “And then I realized I had to do something else besides worry about collecting money and running a business all about profit.”

To achieve this new objective, Frick contacted Project HOPE, Millwood, Va, an organization he had seen advertised on television. Walsh went through his employer at the time, TriMedx Healthcare Equipment Services in Indianapolis.

After a lifetime of wanting to do something, Morris looked into opportunities after getting into a nearly fatal accident that caused him to rethink his life and finally make the move to “help others more.” His volunteer efforts inspired those around him, including Carl Porter, a UAMS team leader/CBET III. After the earthquake in Haiti, Porter thought he “might do something” and quickly found an opportunity through Morris, who had a contact at Project HOPE.

Resume Still Relevant

Even with the connection, however, Porter did not come by the position lightly. He had to complete an application, provide his passport and other documentation, and participate in an interview. Most volunteer biomed experiences are the same.

Frick, whose first experience was also with Project HOPE (in the 1980s), describes a 20-page application that asked about details such as foreign language abilities. “I thought, ‘Well, I’ll never work there, and next thing I knew, they called,’ ” Frick says. He found himself working in China for the next 2 years.

Matches are usually made based on the biomed’s experience. “Skill set is an absolute must with ICHF,” Morris says. “If a biomed were to come in without any anesthesia background and something were to happen, that could be potential lives. Any child we don’t get to may not survive until the next trip.”

Walsh believes his background was key to his acceptance to the mission. “I think one of the reasons that [TriMedx] picked me was because I was the first one who applied with any kind of experience with the specific anesthesia machines that needed to be repaired,” Walsh says.

Once in with an association, however, a biomed can look forward to future opportunities if he or she proves themselves a valuable team player. “The only place I ever applied was the first one,” Frick says.

Anything Goes

Of course, even with a rigorous application process and intense (ideally) planning on the part of an organization, biomeds on medical missions should be prepared to do anything. Those going on progressive trips will, generally, be better prepared than those going into completely new situations, but resources tend to be scarce and conveniences (such as overnight parts delivery) nonexistent in many areas. Biomeds must be willing and resourceful.

Robyn Frick, on a mission for ORBIS International, in front of the ORBIS flying eye hospital. (photo courtesy of ORBIS International)

Robyn Frick with his Syrian trainees. (photo courtesy of ORBIS International)

On a trip with Project HOPE to Milot, Haiti, Morris was sent to train facility personnel how to use and maintain about $1,500,000 worth of donated equipment. “While I was there to teach, I repaired just about every piece of equipment under the sun,” he says. “And they didn’t have any respiratory therapists, so because my background is in ventilators and anesthesiology equipment, I worked with the anesthesiologist, basically, as the respiratory therapist.”

Generally, however, biomeds are not asked to work outside their scope, though they may find resource constraints. On his trip to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Porter’s task was to evaluate the facility’s equipment, repairing what could be repaired. The drawback? Whatever was done was limited to use with the meter, “because that was all we had,” Porter says.

Simple and Minimalistic

The BMET shop in Haiti. (photo courtesy of Carl Porter)

For the most part, resources on medical missions are scarce, but accommodations are comfortable. Details vary, of course, with each organization and each situation; and no one reports a vacation-like experience, but the challenges can increase the feeling of reward.

Porter stayed in a house the organization used for medical staff that was outside of Port-au-Prince. “The air conditioning would cut off, but it was better than people living in tents in Port-au-Prince. I couldn’t complain,” Porter says.

Walsh describes his experience as a “warm day in August.” He stayed in dormitory-type facilities, where he shared a room with another; males and females had separate living quarters. “We slept on hospital beds, but had a bathroom with running water—which was cold, but still good to have,” Walsh says.

Drinking water was also available, although it was obtained fresh daily. “They wouldn’t let us drink the local water because we weren’t used to the stuff that was in it,” Walsh says. “They had a filtering system about 5 miles away that they went to every day with 5-gallon jugs to pick up our drinking water.”

Food may or may not be provided for all three meals (some biomeds found themselves on their own for dinner), but the organizations do make every effort to ensure the safety and well-being of their volunteers. In instances where necessary, they will even provide security. Morris has never been afraid for his safety, even though he has witnessed food riots in Haiti and recently returned from a mission to Iraq, working near its northern border. “Not once did I feel unsafe,” Morris says, reporting instead that the people were friendly, the food great, and ICHF is thinking of expanding its program in the region.

Teaching to Fish

A surgery suite in Haiti. (photo courtesy of Larry Walsh)

In Milot, Haiti, Roy Morris performed PMs on all the anesthesia machines. A part was needed to get this unit up. His technicians at UAMS sent it to a volunteer who came a couple of days later, resulting in a fully functional unit. (photo courtesy of Roy Morris)

While in Iraq, Morris met with 10 biomeds from the area as part of the education portion of the program. The objective was to share knowledge so that the local professionals could assume responsibility and sustain their own programs. “Our job is to go in there and train their doctors how to do it themselves, so that 5 or 6 years down the road, they can take care of their own kids. And eventually, they can help us help others,” Morris says.

Many organizations that are not focused on disaster relief share similar objectives. Much of the work Frick has done has involved training others on topics from equipment repair and maintenance to business practices and operations. Formats have also been broad, ranging from formal seminars and classroom situations to on-site, hands-on instruction given while servicing equipment.

“What works best is the old medical school adage, ‘See one, do one, teach one.’ I’ll show them how to check an anesthesia machine. Then they do a couple. And then, they teach someone else in their own language so that you don’t have to have a translator,” Frick says.

Frick will teach whoever wants to learn, and in some facilities he has found himself engaging with clinical professionals from throughout the hospital at many different levels. Patience is key. “We might work on a simple suction pump all day, taking it apart and putting it back together,” Frick says. “Sometimes, we have to show them how to use a screwdriver and which way to turn the screw. It can take half-an-hour to take out three screws, and it takes a lot of patience.”

Come Prepared

To be ready for any situation, biomeds heading out on medical missions must properly prepare, mentally and physically. “It helps to have a certain character and a certain demeanor,” Frick says, referring to the challenges of travel in developing nations and foreign countries. For those who find this challenge too great, there are opportunities within the United States, though not as many.

Of course, every volunteer will need appropriate documentation, including a passport (unless staying in the United States). Depending on the destination, shots may be necessary. Walsh was immunized against hepatitis A, hepatitis B, malaria, and others.

Porter advises bringing along basic survival gear—flashlights/batteries, bandages, pan/knife/fork, napkins, energy bars, etc—and had his iPhone, which allowed him to make calls and access the Internet. Frick notes the world is nearly ‘wired’ everywhere, and though it may not always be high-speed (or convenient), Internet access can be found even in some remote spots.

Internet access may be helpful to obtain information but not parts. Therefore, when possible, biomeds heading out on a mission should learn as much as possible about the equipment on which they will be working. “You definitely want to research what you’re doing to make sure you bring plenty of equipment because once you get there, what you’ve got is what you’ve got,” Walsh says.

Can’t Complain

Sometimes, however, information is unavailable or incomplete, and biomeds must, again, be flexible and ready for anything. The work is likely to be intense. Most biomeds report full workloads. “I was there for about 4 days and worked as much as I could because of what I needed to get done,” Walsh says.

Securing the luggage rack on the back roads of Haiti. (photo courtesy of Larry Walsh)

Trip lengths vary, from long weekends to years. “There are places in Africa that would be happy to take you for a year,” Frick says. Many retired biomeds devote their time to these types of causes, working as consultants, writing textbooks, or developing training programs for translation.

Very rarely, there is compensation; most often, time is volunteered. Biomeds who participate in these missions use their holidays and vacation; occasionally, the institution for which they are regularly employed full-time will allow them extra time off. Porter was able to gain an extra week for a 3-week trip through his employer’s generosity. When Walsh worked for TriMedx and participated in its trips, time off was fairly easy to obtain; Morris also finds it easy with 6 weeks of vacation a year.

Travel expenses are typically paid and arranged through the organization. The more remote or damaged the location, the more difficult the trip. Walsh endured a 4-hour jeep ride over rough terrain that included ditches and creeks from Port-au-Prince to the hospital in which he would be working. “In the rainy season, it would be a lot harder to get there,” Walsh says.

But the challenges add to the experience and the reward. Sometimes, there may be time to sightsee and experience the culture; other times, not at all. Yet, a volunteer biomed on a medical mission often develops a new appreciation for his or her own life. “Sometimes, we want to complain about what we have or difficult situations, but you go on these trips, and you see how the rest of the world has it, and you will never complain again,” Morris says.

Renee Diiulio is a contributing writer for 24×7. For more information, contact .

Volunteer Opportunities

Biomedical/clinical engineering professionals who participate in medical missions cite challenges—such as less than desirable living and working conditions—and rewards that far outweigh the obstacles. Opportunities abound for biomeds who want to volunteer their time on medical missions. Generally, a biomed should focus on matching a position to a skill set, just as they would do with a regular job.

The main emergency department at the hospital in Haiti. The building was not safe to be in.

After 3 weeks of “eating what you could get,” the team leader took Carl Porter and the team to dinner where all the UN military force ate.

An operating room at General Hospital HUEH in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (photos courtesy of Carl Porter)

For those unable to make the trek to another country, domestic opportunities also exist. Larry Walsh, a BMET II at Provena St Mary’s Hospital in Kankakee, Ill, participated in a mission to Minneapolis, with the Indianapolis-based TriMedx Foundation, where he helped prepare equipment for shipment to Honduras. TriMedx is just one of the organizations through which biomeds can find volunteer opportunities. Explore the other organizations below to see how your skills can contribute to the advancement of medical care in underserved nations around the globe.

American Medical Resource Foundation Inc
N Montello St
Brockton, MA 02301
(508) 580-3301

The American Medical Resources Foundation’s mission is to improve health care around the world by donating medical equipment and supplies to hospitals that serve the poor in underdeveloped and developing countries of the world. Donations of medical equipment are shipped to hospitals worldwide from its facility, and arrangements for engineering/technician training programs are made through this office.

American Red Cross

The American Red Cross, an emergency response organization, is part of a worldwide movement that offers neutral humanitarian care to the victims of war. It distinguishes itself by also aiding victims of devastating natural disasters. Over the years, the organization has expanded its services, always with the aim of preventing and relieving suffering.

Assist International
PO Box 66396
Scotts Valley, CA 95067
(831) 438-4582

Assist International builds the capacity of hospitals in developing countries to more effectively serve the people in their area. It provides medical equipment and training for physicians and nursing staff. Biomeds need to be familiar with the older equipment they refurbish and repair, usually not more than one generation old. Biomeds need skills in installations and training on cardiac care monitors, central stations, ultrasounds, and ventilators.

CardioStart International
Hartford St
Tampa, FL 33619
(813) 740-2698

CardioStart International aspires to provide greater hope and support to families with children and adults afflicted with heart disease. It provides free heart surgery and associated medical care to children and adults living in underserved regions of the world. The organization desires biomeds to accompany every mission it undertakes.

Ardsley Rd
Upper Darby, PA 19082
(801) 879-5433
Dustin Telford, CBET, CRES, CLES
Director of Clinical Engineering

earthMed is an independent, nonsectarian, nonpolitical organization that improves medical care in developing countries through medical program development, education, direct patient care, diagnostic support, medical device donations, medical supply donations, and community outreach support with the assistance of medical volunteers. earthMed Founder and Director Lou Schonder emphasizes that a biomed’s practical know-how is a key consideration in the process of selecting biomeds for earthMed’s traveling medical teams.

Roy Morris’ latest project, on the Haiti-Dominican Republic border, involved adding med gas, electrical, and medical equipment to this new hospital, which plans to open in early 2012. (Photo courtesy of Roy Morris)

Engineering World Health
The Prizery, Suite 230
E Pettigrew St
Durham, NC 27701
(919) 682-7788


Engineering World Health—created to answer the needs of disadvantaged areas through providing and maintaining appropriate medical technology—accepts students and professionals from all over the world. Engineering World Health assembles a container of refurbished medical equipment and donated supplies to meet the hospital’s needs. Once the parts have arrived, EWH volunteer engineers install the equipment and train the hospital’s staff in its use and maintenance. Volunteers also repair broken equipment and train staff in the skills needed for future improvements. EWH volunteers, engineers, and technicians return year after year to the developing world recipient hospital to make sure the donated piece of equipment continues to work.

Global Links
Penn Ave, #2
Pittsburgh, PA 15224
(412) 361-3424

Global Links is a medical relief and development organization dedicated to a twofold mission of environmental stewardship and improving health in developing countries. It collaborates with US hospitals to redirect still useful materials away from landfills to public health-improvement efforts in targeted countries throughout the hemisphere.

India Gospel League
Georgetown Rd, Suite 305
Hudson, OH 44236
(330) 650-5900 / (888) 352-4451

The India Gospel League’s mission is to raise awareness and encourage involvement and support among the people of North America for the India Gospel League’s evangelism, discipleship, church planting, education, agricultural assistance, economic empowerment, and medical programs.

International Aid
Hickory St
Spring Lake, MI 49456
(800) 968-7490
Jim Loeffler

International Aid is a faith-based, nonprofit organization whose primary focus is providing sustainable health care worldwide through medical equipment services, training, infectious disease screening, and health products. Partnering with like-minded organizations, its desire is to provide needed, appropriate health care technology to improve the health and welfare of “the least of these” throughout the world.

International Children’s Heart Foundation
Madison Ave, Suite 500
Memphis, TN 38104
(877) 869-4243

International Children’s Heart Foundation brings the skills, technology, and knowledge to cure and care for children with congenital heart disease in developing countries. The organization operates mission trips to educate local health care professionals and provide needed equipment and medications.

International Medical Relief

MedEquip Missions, a ministry of Helps International Missions
Fairview Rd
Asheville, NC 28803
(828) 277-3812
Dennis McCutcheon, director

MedEquip Missions evaluates and repairs donated medical equipment. It also sends biomedical equipment technicians on short-term missions to meet the needs of active Christian hospitals.


MediSend International
Elisabeth Dahan Humanitarian Center
Markville Dr
Dallas, TX 75243
(214) 575-5006

MediSend is a nonprofit humanitarian organization that supports under-resourced hospitals in developing countries. Its mission includes education, training, technical support, and management technologies in biomedical equipment repair, as well as the distribution of life-saving medical supplies and biomedical equipment in long-term partnership and emergency relief programs.

Mission Aviation Fellowship
PO Box 47
Nampa, ID 83653
(800) 359-7623

Mission Aviation Fellowship transports physicians, nurses, and much-needed medical supplies to treat people that otherwise would have difficult or no access to medical help. It also performs medical evacuations, delivering critically injured or ill people to hospitals and saving lives.

Mission Outreach
PO Box 1665
Springfield, IL 62705
(217) 525-8843

Mission Outreach is a nonprofit organization focused on the recovery and responsible redistribution of health care equipment and supplies to developing countries.

Operation Renewed Hope
PO Box 43242
Fayetteville, NC 28309-3242
(910) 987-5072

Operation Renewed Hope provides the opportunity for individuals to serve God through short-term and long-term missions throughout the world. Team members travel on mission trips together, transporting equipment and supplies that bring relief.

Operation Smile
Tidewater Dr
Norfolk, VA 23509
(888) 677-6453

Operation Smile provides free surgeries to repair cleft lip, cleft palate, and other facial deformities for children around the globe. An international medical humanitarian organization, it has a presence in more than 50 countries.

ORBIS International
Eighth Ave, 11th Floor
New York, NY 10018
(800) ORBIS.US

Ismael Cordero, CBET, health care technology manager

ORBIS International is a nonprofit organization that strives to eliminate avoidable blindness and restore sight in the developing world. Biomeds may not need specialized knowledge of ophthalmic equipment to lend assistance on medical missions. ORBIS welcomes all inquiries.

E Geddes Ave
Centennial, CO 80112
(303) 792-0729

PROJECT C.U.R.E. is a humanitarian relief organization that collects donated medical supplies and equipment and gives them to the poorest in developing countries. Medical teams are sent to sites following the container delivery of medical supplies and equipment, and this is repeated every 6 or 12 months. Training and information is provided to each team member about the medical conditions and equipment needs.

Project HOPE
Carter Hall Lane
Millwood, VA 226461
(800) 544-4673

Project HOPE dedicates itself to providing lasting solutions to health problems with the mission of helping people help themselves. Through its hospital ship SS HOPE, Project HOPE now provides medical training and health education, as well as conducts humanitarian assistance programs in more than 35 countries.

Project Open Hearts
Pearl St
Denver, CO 80203
(303) 929-8850

Project Open Hearts is a nonprofit organization that works with foreign medical staff to provide firsthand cardiac surgical, cardiac nursing training, and assistance with cardiac diagnostic procedures. A biomed’s practical know-how is key when medical team members are being selected.

Samaritan’s Purse, World Medical Mission
PO Box 3000
Boone, NC 28607
(828) 262-1980
Jim Moore

World Medical Mission, the medical arm of Samaritan’s Purse, serves Christian hospitals and clinics in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East by arranging short-term mission trips for health care personnel who volunteer for ministry overseas. They also provide and install critically needed equipment and supplies.

TriMedx Foundation
Digital Way, Suite 400
Indianapolis, IN 46278
(866) 855-2580

TriMedx Foundation provides mission hospitals and organizations the means to greatly improve health care in their communities. Its mission projects include equipment repair and installation in Third World countries, teaching mission hospital staff how to set up and maintain their own medical equipment programs, and consulting with hospitals and other health care organizations involved in mission projects.