FAQ's For Volunteers on a PINCC Campaign
1. Will there be time for tourism on the trip?
PINCC trips are definitely not luxurious or vacations. The days are long, working conditions are usually poor and our living quarters are pretty basic. Water and electricity may be unreliable; food is nutritious but monotonous. We guarantee there will be frustrations and chaos and bugs and surprises and bumpy roads. Bring a spirit of adventure and a sense of humor--and several packs of tissues!
We also hope there will be moments of great satisfaction as our hosts learn new techniques for preventing cervical cancer and women consequently get the care they deserve, as your trainee hugs you goodbye, as you fall into bed knowing you overcame some challenging hurdles, and did the very best job possible.
We do try to have one or two days off each week to rest, relax or explore. Volunteers often take time after they finish their PINCC weeks to explore the country we are visiting. We are happy to make suggestions about the possibilities.
2. Are we going to get together and meet each other before the trip?
Yes, we will get the San Francisco Bay Area Volunteers together before the trip, usually for at least one meeting. I am also happy to talk or meet with anyone individually. We encourage email acquaintance as well, with your co-volunteers. A few of us will need to pack the equipment suitcases shortly before the trip. It is a great time to start learning your way around the suitcases before we start a busy clinic.
We will do an afternoon of orientation with the whole group when we are all together on the first day of the trip.
3. Will you be showing the clinicians how to do Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid (VIA) and treatments? What exactly what will our role be?
Volunteer clinicians range from experienced GYN's to those with basic women's health skills.
We will teach all volunteer health care practitioners how to do, and teach, the VIA exams using our protocols at the beginning of the trip. It is probable you will be teaching very early on, so the more knowledge/experience you have before we start out the better. VIA is a colposcopic exam without a colposcope, using the naked eye and a strong light; therefore the more experience one has with colposcopy the better For those who do not have experience with colposcopy, we have several tools, both online and books, which you can use to get familiar with the exam before we go. And if you have experience doing pelvic exams, you can learn the basics; our medical directors are great teachers.
The medical director will review every patient exam with you until both you and she are confident in your exam skills. You will start an exam with a trainee, teach as far as you are confident and then the medical director will come in, look at the cervix, review your findings and teach everyone. All positive exams are reviewed by a gynecologist. It can make for a very long speculum exam for the patient, but we explain that she is getting the benefit of many expert eyes. If the patient needs treatment, you and the gynecologist will set this up.
You will ask your student to explain what they are seeing and make a diagnosis for each exam, and draw their findings on the patient chart. They need to make a treatment and follow-up plan, prescribe any medications, and chart everything. All this is time consuming at first; but we are teaching good technique, record-keeping, and follow-up as well as diagnosing and treating dysplasia, so we aren't in a hurry.
Sometimes the doctors or nurses need help with basics like proper insertion of a speculum, or tricks for clearly visualizing the cervix, etc. It is just a matter of watching them and then trying to figure out what they need. They come in at many different levels of competence. Some do not know how to do a bimanual exam although they have taken thousands of PAP smears. Some are gynecologists who only need more sophisticated teaching.
Our goal is to give you and the trainees the support you need. It is not always smooth, but it does serve to both teach and protect the patients.
4. What are the other roles PINCC volunteers take on trips?
There will also be lots of work doing patient education, nurse education, and patient interviews. Everyone will pitch in with restocking rooms, cleaning equipment, packing and unpacking, as we roll along. Data entry and quality control are especially important to us as we track our results. Spanish-speaking interpreters are very vital on the Latin America trips, and even limited Spanish will endear you to our trainees.
5. What does a typical day's schedule look like?
With the proviso that no two days are alike:
7:30 - 8AM Arrive at training site, set-up, classroom teaching, interview patients.
8:30 - 9AM Start seeing first patients.
1PM Lunch at work site.
3 - 4PM Finish seeing last patients.
3:30 - 4:30PM Classroom teaching, clean-up, pack-up.
4 - 5PM Back to hotel, review of day, debriefing and trouble shooting as needed.
6-8PM Dinner, then free time and rest!
One day per week is usually spent in travel, sometimes more often, between sites. We use
this time for seeing some of the country, getting acquainted, listening to music/ other electronic fun, napping, etc.
6. Will there be telephone and internet access?
Sometimes, but not daily. There are usually internet cafes available at least once a week. We have cell phone access for urgent calls, and you can purchase minutes to use it when not needed for work. In some remote areas, even this is limited. If you feel you need better access to these services, we suggest getting an I-phone, Palm or Blackberry which can be used "unlocked" in the countries we will visit.
You should not volunteer with PINCC on a trip if...
"...you consider yourself high maintenance."
"...you are not ready for an intense group experience. At some sites you will eat all your meals together, work together, share sleeping quarters and travel together as a group. It is a lot of intense group time if you are not expecting it."
"...the trip is about you. This trip is about helping others learn a new technique to prevent cervical cancer. There are many mundane and repetitive tasks that go into making that happen. You may be bored, overworked, tired, hot, scared and/or cranky. You may be do jobs way below your educational or social level. That is all part of a service trip with PINCC. Everyone does whatever need to be done to further the training."
"...you want a lot of control and structure. The plans may change minute to minute as PINCC adapts to the needs of the learners and the reality of the day. Are there enough patients/trainees? Is Ramadan ending today? Are there too many patients/trainees? Who needs to learn what? Oh yes, two patients needing LEEP's just showed up at the end of the day and we will be leaving the work site two hours later than planned. There is no electricity. There is no nitrous oxide. At the moment there are no buckets, drapes, trash bags, or 10% formalin. They are on their way. Five new trainees just walked in. There is no lunch, yet.
"...you are not willing to collect and/or wash dirty speculums, spend days entering patient data into the computer, restock rooms, jump to look when someone asks (for the 10th time the same morning), Where is the Monsel's solution?, inventory the suitcases, count the medical instruments, learn the names of the medical instruments, figure out where the last ring forceps is hiding, track down a sanitary pad for the patient who just had cryotherapy."
"....if you are unwilling to eat essentially the same food every day for two short weeks, especially given that compared to our hosts and patients we are eating like royalty."
There are many different ways to help out without volunteering on a trip. If you would like to find out how you can help PINCC please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!