Double the Blessings
For Dr. Jeff Justice, medical mission trips provide opportunities to both give back and tighten family bonds.
Twice a year, Dr. Jeff Justice lectures medical students at the Fort Wayne campus of Indiana University Medical School. He offers this piece of advice: Give back.
“I remind students that they are living a privileged life that very few people have access to,” says Jeff. “I suggest that it’s their duty to give back by donating their services to an underserved population somewhere in the world. And I tell them to take along their spouse or children, because nothing will ever compare to that experience.”
After graduating from medical school in 1983 and completing a surgical residency at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Jeff joined a small physician group in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
One of his surgical partners had served as a medical missionary to the Dominican Republic.
“After several years of him badgering me, I decided to go,” says Jeff.
The experience was so rewarding, that Jeff went back to the Dominican Republic as a surgical volunteer on eight separate occasions. He also donated his surgical skills to needy communities in Jamaica and Ecuador.
International Needs’ Colombia Medical Team trip in January 2015 was Jeff’s second mission trip with IN and his first nonsurgical outreach. Partnering with other medical professionals from the United States and Colombia, Jeff treated general medical conditions like hypertension and thyroid disorders as well as a common local virus that results in skin rashes and arthritic symptoms. Jeff was also confronted with his first case of leprosy; the patient was referred to a local hospital for more extensive treatment.
The Colombia team also included Jeff’s wife Karen and their daughter Lauren Justice Dykstra, who is a medical/surgical nurse.
When each of his four children turned 13, Jeff began taking them along on his medical mission trips. The children often accompanied him during his visits with patients and even observed surgeries. Jeff says that Lauren’s decision to become a nurse was deeply influenced by what she saw at her father’s side.
“I wanted my children to see that the privileged life we have in the United States is very unusual,” says Jeff. “I wanted them to see that they could be a lot worse off.”
An added benefit of these trips was the intense, one-on-one time Jeff enjoyed with his children.
During a plane ride home from Ecuador when Lauren was in her teens, Jeff brought along a journal he had kept during her childhood, and the two of them read the entries together.
“This was time I would not normally have with my kids,” says Jeff. “So it was a real privilege. Those experiences have become part of who I am.”
The trips also help Jeff keep his priorities straight. Once, after returning from a developing nation, Jeff encountered a patient in the United States who complained that he had had to wait 15 minutes to see the doctor.
“I said to him, ‘Are you kidding me? I just came from a place where people routinely wait all day!’” says Jeff. “Of course, I then had to apologize to him. But it really brought home to me how deeply appreciative the people overseas are of the fact that we take the time to come long distances to help take care of them. That is very rewarding.”