Doctors Without Borders utilizes a large number of medical and non-medical personnel to staff medical clinics and hospitals in areas where there is an urgent need for health care services, often near a military conflict, natural disaster or epidemic.
Doctors Without Borders is currently active in more than 60 countries. While Doctors Without Borders employs the services of many health care professionals such as doctors, nurses, pharmacists and laboratory technicians, this non-governmental organization also uses the services of administrative personnel, logisticians, and water sanitation experts.
If you are interested in volunteering with Doctors Without Borders the following steps should be taken:
- Familiarize yourself with the Doctors Without Borders website. There is a plethora of information about the types of volunteers that are accepted to work for Doctors Without Borders. Consider joining a Doctors Without Borders listserv and/or contacting the Doctors Without Borders office closest to you.
- If you don’t have the experience required to work with Doctors Without Borders, then consider going back to school to gain this experience. To become a physician working with Doctors Without Borders usually requires four years of medical school, a residency training period in almost any field of medicine (such as family practice, which is a three-year residency). Doctors Without Borders requires two years real world work experience as well. While many medical students wish to volunteer with Doctors Without Borders, this is not possible due to the work environment, as volunteers do not have time to provide on-the-job training.
- If you are considering volunteering with Doctors Without Borders and you do have the requisite experience and education, then consider volunteering for 1 to 2 months abroad in a developing country. Most Doctors Without Borders volunteers are required to spend a minimum of 9 to 12 months serving abroad. Because of the extended time abroad, Doctors Without Borders look most favorably on those who have already worked for humanitarian relief projects abroad for at least a couple of months. Surgeons and anesthesiologists are sometimes recruited for much shorter time periods, occasionally for only a couple of weeks.
- Plan your relief mission. Congratulations are in order if you are accepted as a volunteer with Doctors Without Borders. However, please realize that any significant time away from your home country should be well planned. Doctors Without Borders will provide significant support acquiring the correct vaccinations and travel documents. Remember to give your regular employer as much advance warning time as possible concerning your service with Doctors Without Borders. After returning from a war-torn region, a natural disaster or a developing country, you may experience reverse culture shock upon your arrival home. You might want to budget a couple of weeks to re-orient yourself to your life back home before returning to work.