In many parts of the world, access to medical care is a dream rather than a reality; health volunteering abroad allows individuals to make healthcare a reality for those who need it most. Even if you don’t have a degree in the field, opportunities for health volunteering abound, whether assisting in med administration, providing information to patients, or simply caring for who would otherwise be neglected. The biggest threats to global health are: lack of safe drinking water, malnutrition, and lack of health education. Health volunteers can help spread information about proper nutrition and disease prevention and help with distribution of resources.
Why Volunteer Abroad in Health
Volunteering in the health field will not only provide volunteers with feelings of satisfaction, having spread valuable information, assisted in disease prevention, or distributing essential medicines, but there is no better way to introduce yourself to a culture than person-to-person interaction with local people. Health volunteers will speak with locals every day, learn about the issues they face in caring for themselves and their families, and glean a greater understanding about life in a different part of the world.
Volunteers at hospitals and clinics are some of the most needed volunteers in the world. Though everyone, regardless of wealth or status, should receive necessary medical attention, this is not always the case; therefore, volunteers are urgently in demand, especially in low-income cities with large populations.
Medical student status isn’t necessary (or even a pre-medical student) to become a health volunteer abroad. You can make a global difference by being part in health campaigns, spreading information, and distributing supplies, such as prophylactics or mosquito nets, around the world.
However, if you’re considering applying to medical, nursing, dentistry, or any other health-related graduate program, health volunteering abroad can provide you with important first hand experience, as well as knowledge about health care in different parts of the world. This can be highlighted on your resume as well as expressed in an interview.
Countries in Asia, Africa, and South America have some of the greatest threats to public health, including the majority of cases of malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS, though numbers in all three diseases are decreasing in recent years. Not coincidentally, these areas are also typically some of the poorest, with scarce access to technology, medications, and, most importantly, manpower.
Asia. Health volunteering in India or Nepal can introduce you to large urban cities, like Delhi or Kathmandu, as well as towns that have growing populations and growing industries that struggle to keep up with medical advances and rely on volunteers to keep hospitals and other health offices staffed. Volunteering in South Asia can be an immensely rewarding experience, and can help you learn conversational language through practice with local peoples.
Traveling to any country in Africa is a mind opening experience, as everything from clothes to food is vastly different; healthcare is a growing industry in much of Africa, as global health organizations seek to spread information about major diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and malaria, and how to prevent infection and spread. Countries in the south of Africa, like Zimbabwe and Botswana, have the highest rates of HIV/AIDS and health volunteers in these areas best serve as educators in discussing methods of transmission.
Health volunteering in South American countries, such as Peru and Colombia, is a meaningful experience, especially for those looking to polish their Spanish speaking skills through direct contact with native speakers. Poorer areas of these countries are in need of health volunteers to assist in the goal of allowing anyone in need access to proper access to healthcare.
Health Volunteering Abroad
Healthcare is a broad term, therefore health volunteering abroad can look very different depending on your interests, where volunteers are needed most, your education, and your experience in the medical field. Health volunteers may find themselves placed at hospitals, clinics, or even orphanages.
For pre-medical students looking to boost their resumes through health volunteering abroad, volunteering in a hospital or a surgical clinic are the most coveted positions. These health volunteer placements consist mainly of shadowing doctors completing basic procedures or more complicated surgeries, and helping with follow up patient questions and paperwork. If you have a medical or nursing degree, your skills are surely in high demand, and health volunteering abroad will mimic your domestic duties, including administering shots and medicines.
Most volunteers without medical experience will handle intake paperwork or perform basic tests on patients, such as eye exams. If you’re interested in a specific area of medicine, you can typically seek out a health volunteering placement, in areas such as midwifery, physical therapy, speech therapy, or dentistry.
A popular option for young students is to get involved in health volunteering is in nutrition and public health. For example, volunteers have led classes about safe sex practices to limit the spread of HIV in areas where the virus is particularly prevalent, worked with families and children at risk of malnutrition, distributing meals with necessary vitamins and nutrients, or taught basic hygiene practices at local schools.
- Give Back & Travel. Traveling the world and helping people at the same time is an amazing experience afforded only to few. For those with an altruistic spirit and a penchant to meet new people and be immersed in new cultures, health volunteering abroad is the best option.
- Do Good, Feel Good. Meeting new people and making a difference in their lives is food for the soul; if that wasn’t an attractive enough reason for volunteering abroad in hospitals and clinics in new and exciting countries, consider the fact that you’ll be gaining first hand experience in the medical field.
- Increase Access to Quality. Health volunteering doesn’t get more impactful than helping people get medicines, eyeglasses, or dental care, just to name a few, which they would not ordinarily receive. Furthermore, health volunteering is a volunteer experience in which you will get hands on experience communicating with people from all over the world, listening to their stories, and helping them care for themselves and the health of their family.