Public Health Volunteer Abroad

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A Guide to Public Health Volunteering Abroad

In an ideal world, every human being would have access to water, food, shelter, and health care. However, societies today are far from perfect, so there are still some parts of the globe that lack adequate health care services, limiting the standard of living for many. This is where public health volunteers come in, ready and eager to alleviate the many health concerns afflicting individuals suffering from insufficient resources and health services. When it comes to public health volunteering abroad, all who are willing are welcome, regardless of educational or professional background.

Why Volunteer Abroad in Public Health

If you have a passion and a desire to help individuals sustain healthy standards of living or to prevent the next disease outbreak, volunteering in public health is likely an ideal fit for you. But, if you wish to gain experience and open a literal world of opportunities in the field, you should seek out public health volunteer opportunities abroad, where hands-on work in communities that severely lack proper resources is (unfortunately) the norm. 

Oftentimes, regions hit hardest by public health issues are made up of developing nations. It would be naive to assume that there aren’t many significant public health initiatives in your own country; however, there tends to be more urgency and a greater need for external support outside of the developed world.

Let’s start with this: people die from preventable illnesses every single day. To begin to minimize deaths caused by preventable disease, many countries need more hands, more boots on the ground, and essentially more health volunteers to devote time toward ongoing public health efforts and projects. 

Whether you are a prospective doctor or nurse or just a concerned citizen of the world, public health volunteering abroad will carry you well into your future endeavors. Future employers will recognize and laud your willingness to work in difficult, and often high-risk, situations, and consider you to be a resourceful and compassionate individual.


As a public health volunteer, you can choose from placement opportunities around the world. The downside to having so many public health volunteer opportunities is that it means there are numerous societies and individuals that currently need this public health assistance. No matter where you decide to become a public health volunteer abroad, you are sure to make a lasting impact on the people you serve. Some of the countries with the greatest need for public health volunteers are listed below:

Guatemala. Although there have been improvements in the last several years, Guatemala continues to suffer from communicable diseases, undernutrition, and maternal mortality. You can help improve public health in Guatemala by tackling the core issues that continue to contribute to discrepancies in health care: inequality and poverty. When not saving the world, one lesson on washing hands at a time, just be sure to uncover the historic Mayan sites and beautifully unspoiled land scattered throughout the country.

Cambodia. Plagued by war throughout much of its history, Cambodia is an emerging destination for many foreign travelers. However, well-earned tourist dollars rarely trickle down to help struggling Cambodians with a real need for increased quality of life. Stark inequality can be found within both the rural and urban areas of Cambodia, bringing about numerous public health concerns in need of international attention. Despite the beautiful beaches and well-known Angkor Wat temple complex, there is still a great need for public health volunteers in Cambodia, who are willing to take their visit outside the tourist sites.

Tanzania continues to lag behind in many areas of public health; however, there is hope. The nation has openly called healthcare professionals to volunteer to Tanzania and help them meet their goal of better living standards and quality of life by 2025. To make this goal a reality, public health volunteers are needed to support improvements in health care services in some of the nation’s most needy communities. Beyond the public health needs, you can easily become overwhelmed with wanderlust when thinking about volunteer programs in Tanzania if you start browsing photos. Have you ever thought what a real life version of the Lion King would look like? Volunteering in Tanzania will be your chance to see lions, elephants, and giraffes in their natural habitat, while visiting Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania.

Public Health Volunteer Opportunities

Ready to be a part of a lasting change to bring sufficient medical treatment and health care resources to communities around the world? There are many ways to jump in and get your hands dirty as a public health volunteer abroad.

Step one is to decide if you want to volunteer abroad in public health through a program focused on eradicating a specific illness (such as AIDS, ebola, or malaria) or if you want to focus on advocating for local hospitals and doctors within a community or area that lacks proper resources to ensure public health. Though public health volunteering abroad can include everything from building a stable healthcare system to educating children on basic hygiene practices to assisting with the development of better technology for healthcare professionals.

Some of the most popular public health volunteer opportunities abroad revolve around HIV/AIDS education and prevention, which aim to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS in various at-risk populations. Educating locals on hygiene best practices, supporting poverty-stricken communities, and eliminating the stigma associated with those who are infected with the disease are all chief aims of these programs. 

Every year, millions of children under the age of five die from illnesses and diseases that could have been treated with proper health care services and medical resources. Choosing a public health volunteer placement focused on educating and helping needy or disadvantaged children guarantees smiles and laughs (though it can also sometimes be heartbreaking) and the satisfaction of brightening a child’s day.

It is also possible to work as a public health volunteer in health clinics or hospitals, where you can share your skills with local medical professionals or serve patients’ needs. Building a stable healthcare system is of utmost importance in developing nations and volunteers can help educate locals on new technologies, practices, and treatments that they may otherwise not have access too. 

You don’t necessarily need medical experience to become a public health volunteer abroad; more importantly, all public health volunteers should have a desire to serve communities through education and outreach programs. Public health volunteer opportunities range in language from a few weeks to a few years. However, considering the likelihood of volunteers working with vulnerable populations, volunteers must show a real commitment to their volunteer work; therefore, it is recommended that public health volunteering occur for longer periods of time in order for volunteers to make a true impact.

Benefits & Challenges

The passion and education you can bring to communities as a public health volunteer can change the way healthcare is viewed for years (and generations) to come. You will be able to transform lives by taking on the challenge of providing adequate services and healthcare to specific communities for the duration of your program. Not to mention you will develop a more realistic and comprehensive perspective of the world, in terms of public health.

Having public health volunteer experience under your belt will make you a more competitive candidate for future jobs because employers will greatly value your commitment to the field on an international level. Participation in public health volunteering abroad will portray your determination and selflessness in a way that employers may not be able to see in any other way.

Public health volunteering abroad will not come without challenges, as you may encounter some frustration when dealing with different healthcare systems, medical conditions, and an often slow moving pace of healthcare services that can be found in developing countries. As a public health volunteer abroad, there is no question that you will witness poor conditions that would make nearly anyone uncomfortable or unnerved, so you’ll have to develop patience, compassion, and understanding for the local healthcare practices. 

Public health volunteer opportunities will give you the chance to become part of a new community in a way you have never felt before. The communities you’ll likely serve will be impoverished and tight-knit, leaving you with a new perspective on the world and a gratefulness for everything you’ve been provided with in your life.

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A Guide To
Public Health Volunteering Abroad


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