A Summer of Service: The Benefits of Participating in Medical Outreach Programs Abroad

If you are considering a healthcare career, the most important inquiry you must be able to answer honestly and with sincerity is, “What motivates and inspires me”? Ultimately, an indescribable desire to serve others and to leave a lasting impact on one’s community and the world should be a characteristic embraced and embodied by one who truly, by choice has accepted healthcare as their calling.

Volunteering is the most tangible way to assess whether or not we are committed to working in healthcare because it is a selfless act through which one gives service without receiving payment and sacrifices money and time, but gains incomparable fulfillment. Although there are countless opportunities for prospective healthcare professionals and students to volunteer locally, there are many opportunities to volunteer abroad as well, that prove to be enriching experiences.

During the summer of 2014, opportune circumstances allowed me to volunteer in the Dominican Republic with a group from my college through an organization, known as Volunteer Around the World. In reflecting on my experience, I am grateful for the many advantages resulting from my participation in the medical outreach such as:

  1. Gaining further insight regarding the needs of others- When I decided to participate in the medical outreach program in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic, I was considering applying for Physician Assistant school. One common denominator shared by all of the programs that I was considering, was a commitment to preparing students to work in under-served neighborhoods, and in similarity, the purpose of the organization, Volunteers Around the World was to provide medical services to rural areas in developing nations where resources were limited. This goal was accomplished by partnering with local physicians in order to organize mobile clinics at local schools, where residents could receive routine medical examinations free of charge.  During the course of the medical outreach, learned that the majority of illnesses endured by local residents were due to parasites in the water, as clean water was a rare commodity throughout the entirety of the country. What amazed me about the people I encountered however, was their positive countenance and an abundant love for life in spite of their lack , and I realized how easily we take basic necessities for granted when they are easily at our disposal. A revelation of how blessed and fortunate I am to have access to essential resources gave me not only a greater appreciation for life and the things I have, but a greater passion for providing resources to those less fortunate, not only abroad but in my local community.
  2. Learning about a different culture- Exposure to various cultures has the power to increase our empathy for others by giving us insight regarding the unique ways in which those from other cultures perceive the world. By visiting other countries possessing a history, cuisine, music,  and language different from our own, we are made aware of the true beauty of diversity, and how an understanding and acceptance of differences  births true cohesiveness in achieving the common goal of bettering humanity. As a healthcare professional, you will interact with individuals from various backgrounds, cultures, and age groups, and medical outreach programs allow you to converse with a diverse group of people inside and outside of the healthcare setting.
  3.  Priceless Memories- Usually when involved in medical outreach programs, participants are given the opportunity to gain extensive medical exposure that they would not be entitled to otherwise. For example, in the United States, undergraduate students are not able to perform direct patient care in hospital and urgent care settings unless they have a certification which enables them to do so. However while in the Dominican Republic, the group that I worked with took vital signs such as blood pressure, temperature, height, weight, respiration, and pulse, and were able to shadow physicians and ask questions. In doing so, I gained a tremendous sense of competency and confidence as I became comfortable with my interpersonal skills and patient care. Also, being in a Spanish-speaking country greatly enhanced my communication skills as I was forced to actually utilize the Spanish language in daily conversation. In spite of the many rewarding experiences I had however,the most invaluable experience was being able to actually observe a surgery taking place at the local Jarabacoa Hospital, in which a woman was having an ovarian cyst removed. Such experiences are what solidify and confirm our passions and interest by giving us glimpses into our perceived future.

How Do I volunteer Overseas?

There are many organizations through which students can volunteer in medical outreaches overseas. In addition to Volunteers Around the World  other organizations such as  A Broader View Volunteers, International Volunteer HQ, and the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children grant students the privilege of volunteering internationally. Applications and further information can be found at the following websites:

  1. Volunteers Around the World- http://www.volunteersaroundtheworld.org/about-us/
  2. A Broader View Volunteers- https://www.abroaderview.org/about-us/mission-statement
  3. International volunteer HQ- https://www.volunteerhq.org/
  4. Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children- https://www.fimrc.org/ghvp/

Have you volunteered overseas? If so how would you describe your experience?



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