Sadly, there are far too many communities around the world in need of medical support, especially in places where medical professionals struggle to keep their communities in basic, good health. On a larger scale, many nations are in desperate need of medical expertise that the modern world can offer. Therefore, most of countries in dire need of health services gratefully accept any support they can get from the international community, which is where international medical volunteers can contribute tremendously.
Whether you are eager to gain professional experience, learn about public health issues, or you are simply looking to be challenged in a multicultural environment, becoming a medical volunteer abroad can be a truly definitive experience in your education and career.
Pre-medical students can gain real work experience, whether assisting with triage and intake of patients, shadowing doctors’ consultations, or helping to pack medications in a pharmacy under the direction of local pharmacists, as a medical volunteer abroad. However, regardless of medical skill level, any aspiring medical volunteer can find a placement abroad and have the chance to learn about providing sustainable healthcare to impoverished communities that would otherwise have limited (or no) access.
If you are a medical, nursing, or public health student seriously considering medical volunteer opportunities abroad, read on to find out the best places to become a medical volunteer, so you can make the most of your international experience:
Honduras ranks among the poorest countries in Latin America. Poverty, social and economic inequalities, and high levels of insecurity in the country present significant challenges to improving the health status of Hondurans. Some of the most vulnerable populations include: women, newborns, children under five, and those at risk of contracting HIV.
Medical volunteers in Honduras usually focus their support in various departments of local hospitals, such as emergency, maternity, pediatrics, general medicine, and dentistry. As a medical volunteer in Honduras, volunteers may also have the opportunity to participate in mobile vaccination campaigns or provide educational seminars on hygiene, nutrition, or preventative healthcare.
On their free time, volunteers will be able to explore some of Honduras’ most visited sites, whether Cayos Cochinos or Utila Islands to soak up some sun or Parque Nacional Pico Bonito for adventure touring.
Licensed doctors and modern health care services are limited, if not impossible to access, for most people living in Uganda, especially those living in rural communities outside large cities. Medical volunteer opportunities in Uganda are often focused on public health education in schools, visits to orphanages to assess children’s health status, and placements at medical clinics focused on community health outreach. Medical volunteers in Uganda can help to reduce child mortality and provide a strong component of community health education and prevention, no matter where they decide to volunteer.
Additionally, HIV and AIDS continue to be a primary concern throughout Uganda, so many medical volunteer opportunities emphasize HIV/AIDS awareness education to help locals understand the importance of testing and treatment of HIV.
Outside their placement, most volunteers cannot leave Uganda without taking a gorilla trek; Uganda has the largest number of gorilla families in the Biwindi National Forest!
The most populous country in Central America, 40 percent of Guatemala’s population is of indigenous descent; and, almost 75 percent of indigenous Guatemalans live in poverty. Access to adequate health care services in rural areas is almost nonexistent, and there are large inequalities present between rural and urban communities.
Therefore, medical volunteering in Guatemala is often focused on providing support for mothers, children, and infants in Guatemala's most underserved areas. Medical volunteer programs in Guatemala focus heavily on providing maternal and developmental care for rural and indigenous populations, as well as supporting the elderly. In Quetzaltenango, for example, medical volunteers can become immersed in community-based health clinics and have the chance to learn how healthcare is provided in rural villages.
With so much Maya history and national parks nearby, volunteers can spend their weekends visiting the ruins of Tikal, hiking Acatenango volcano, or relaxing lakeside at Atitlan.
Peru has made immense strides toward improving health care over the last 20 years. However, one-third of the population still lacks access to basic health care services. Numerous persistent problems exist; there are large inequalities between rural towns and larger cities and there is a lack of trained healthcare providers and sufficient funding to meet the needs of local populations.
Medical volunteers in Peru can provide support at public hospitals, which offer free healthcare services to uninsured populations, such as the elderly. There are also medical volunteer opportunities in Peru focused on: administering care and support therapy to special needs children and adults, shadowing local doctors, giving oral vaccinations, and caring for the elderly.
If you don’t know this already, Machu Picchu is a must see when volunteering in Peru; it is widely known to leave visitors literally speechless.
One of the least developed countries in Asia, about one half of the Nepalese population live in poverty. Malnutrition is rampant in Nepal, infant and child mortality rates are high, and the disparities between gender and castes still exist throughout the entire country. Access to education is limited for most poor families, so literacy rates remain a barrier to economic progress as well.
Private health care in Nepal is extremely expensive. In fact, medical care costs are a big cause of debt and poverty among poor populations. Those who decide to become medical volunteer in Nepal will be able to support the day-to-day operations of hospitals, assisting in various departments, including, but not limited to: emergency, maternity, pediatrics, general medicine, and dental. Medical volunteers can also support earthquake relief, give vaccinations, observe surgeries, shadow dentists and doctors, provided health check ups, and give health and hygiene talks at local schools.
On their free days, medical volunteers can enjoy a safari in Chitwan National Park, visit the lakeside town of Pokhara, or even plan a mini climb of Mt. Everest!
No matter where you become a medical volunteer abroad, building your resume, creating a global network, learning a new language, all while gaining valuable insight in international medicine, will be incredibly life changing, to say the least.
This article was contributed by A Broader View Volunteer Corps (ABV), an international volunteer organization founded in 2007. ABV provides highly immersive volunteer programs focused on helping needy communities in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.