How to Find Medical Volunteer Opportunities Abroad
Whether you’re more Meredith Grey than Doogie Howser, or you’ve always been a J.D. and not much of a McDreamy, going into the field of medicine is a noble and not-so-easy feat. You’ve got some big TV-inspired shoes to fill, not to mention all of the wonderful men and women saving lives every day IRL.
Now comes a long road ahead. Graduating pre-med is a feat in itself, but only the beginning of a long and tenuous training process. Next comes medical school applications, then medical school itself, then residency, and then, hopefully by sometime in your thirties, you’ll be a full-fledged doctor, ready to heal and save lives. So-and-so, M.D. It has a nice ring to it, right?
Let’s not stray too far ahead of ourselves, though. In the immediate future, aspiring doctors can make a positive impact on lives around the world by taking part in medical volunteer opportunities abroad. Becoming a medical volunteer abroad in between your studies can be a grounding experience and make a huge impact in the community where you work; it sure won’t look back on a med school application either.
As a medical student, volunteering abroad will prove to be one of the very best decisions you make at the outset of your career. And, there is an insatiably high demand in many regions of the world for ambitious aspiring doctors to engage in this type of work. To get your search for medical volunteer abroad programs started, here’s a list of some of the best places to find pre med volunteer abroad opportunities.
We’ll start in the Caribbean. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, and the effects on health care of that fact have only been exacerbated by the tragic earthquake in 2010 and more recently by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. A full 90 percent of Haitian children suffer from waterborne diseases or intestinal parasites, and thousands more Haitians fall ill every year from preventable diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis.
Check out medical volunteer abroad programs like the Hope for Haiti Medical Trip to serve remote populations in country where there is little to no access to quality healthcare. Get a feel for what life is like working in a mobile field clinic abroad.
On to Central America. While Costa Rica’s healthcare system is significantly better-developed than Haiti’s, there is nevertheless a large demand for medical students to volunteer in hospitals abroad there. The fact that Costa Rica has a strong healthcare system in place also gives aspiring doctors the chance to learn in a deeply educational setting, while helping citizens that do not benefit from the services of a fully industrialized country.
Volunteer in medicine in Costa Rica with IVHQ to shadow and offer support to local nurses and healthcare professionals in a variety of placements.
Brazil, the world’s fifth largest country, has long been lauded for its vast economic potential, but for many ordinary citizens the lack of adequate social services is a constant burden. While Brazil boasts universal public healthcare, for instance, most affluent Brazilians opt to buy their own private coverage because the public system is not well provided for. Working as a medical volunteer abroad in Brazil is the opportunity to immerse yourself in South America’s leading nation, while giving your time and unique skill-set to those in need.
You’ll make a huge difference in the favelas of Rio through Frontier's health promotion program based in Rio. Promote healthy habits with health awareness campaigns and disease prevention programs and work directly with local communities teaching health education classes.
Moving across the Atlantic, we come to Ghana in West Africa. Ghana’s system of universal healthcare, the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), is a model of success for the region. However, its urban centers are disproportionately served, while in rural regions adequate health care remains elusive. Embarking on a medical volunteer trip in Ghana is the chance to help out and learn all about healthcare in Africa from within one of its best-reputed systems.
Kaya Responsible Travel medical outreach and hospital volunteer placements in Ghana are some of many great opportunities for medical students to work with teaching hospitals and local clinics to gain experience (and credit!) as they continue their medical educations.
In East Africa, Kenya’s healthcare system has also made great strides forward in recent years, but the country faces a steep uphill battle nevertheless. Life expectancy has dipped to 55 years, infant mortality is at 44 deaths per 1,000 children, and HIV prevalence is over six percent of the adult population. Income is directly correlated with health in Kenya, so medical volunteers can step in to serve those left unaccounted for.
Check out hospital and clinic volunteering opportunities in Kenya with African Impact and work toward more professional medical experience working with licensed professionals in-country and helping vulnerable communities as a medical student volunteer abroad.
South Africa is the most developed country in all of sub-Saharan Africa, but medical challenges still face this continental leader. Huge discrepancies in life expectancy based on race, a healthcare system that only covers 16 percent of the population, and above seven million people living with HIV–more than any other country in the world–spell out a drastic need for medical volunteers from abroad.
GoEco’s medical outreach and HIV/AIDS awareness program is a good place to start looking into medical volunteer opportunities abroad in South Africa. Offer support to local communities and help with education and outreach campaigns in the region.
There are 1.3 billion people in India, which is quite a tall order for any healthcare system to provide for. India also happens to be one of the poorest countries in the world, however, which compounds these effects drastically. The medical needs for millions of urban and rural Indians go unaccounted for every day, making this South Asian giant one one of the most popular destinations for medical volunteer opportunities abroad.
Volunteering Journeys offers a wide range of medical volunteer programs in India to get your search started. You can get hands-on experience with Volunteering Journeys working in a medical volunteer placements across India, in cities such as Allahabad, Calcutta, and Dharamsala.
Moving to Southeast Asia, the last country on our our list is Thailand. Though it is a developing nation, Thailand also carries a sterling reputation for its national health services, making it a unique opportunity. For those interested in volunteering abroad in medical services, Thailand offers both the chance to learn within a highly respected system, and the chance to make a difference offering your services in support of local doctors.
Through Friends for Asia medical intern project, students are paired with a local doctor to shadow and assist in the day-to-day. You’ll get hands-on experience and a good look into why Thailand has become a medical center for much of the region.
Beef Up Your Med School Apps -- Sign up for Medical Volunteer Opportunities Abroad!
All of these countries offer opportunities to improve yourself and the community wherein you serve, which is the most important part of any volunteer abroad experience. As you begin the decision-making process, be sure to reach out to program alumni and vigorously read reviews to make sure you pick the best program for you.
While you’re gone, though, it’s also important to keep record of what you learn and be conscious of how this experience can help you develop as a future medical professional. Be sincere in this self-reflection throughout the duration of your trip, and the experience will write of itself in your med school applications! Harvard Med School, here you come!