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Physician volunteer programs can revive your passion for medicine, while boosting your career


With changing requirements and regulations, it’s easy for physicians to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks. One way to break free of that daily grind is to volunteer your medical services.


Ted Sussman, MD, has volunteered with Health Volunteers Overseas eight times in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Nearly every physician would agree that they originally pursued medicine to help others. But with changing requirements and regulations, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks. One way to break free of that daily grind is to volunteer your medical services, says Kate Fincham, director of program support for Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO).

“The most common comment made in our trip reports is people say, ‘This trip reminded me of why I went into medicine in the first place,’” says Fincham. “That’s because they’re doing medicine. They’re not doing insurance. They’re not given only 10 minutes with a patient and told they’re not allowed to take any longer than that. It does give them personal and professional fulfillment.”

HVO is a non-profit organization, where medical professionals can volunteer their services across the globe. Its seven programs include a variety of subspecialties, including internal medicine, and it serves more than 25 counties in need. During a two to four week stay, HVO volunteers provide medical training and mentorship to healthcare providers in that country. Depending on their location, volunteers may be permitted to bring their spouse and their children.

Volunteers vary in their experience levels, from recent medical school graduates to physicians who have already retired from practice. But for those who are just finishing up their residency, not only will volunteering look good on their curriculum vitaes, it may also help them further their own training.

“It is not uncommon for doctors at that part of their training to say that they came back more confident in their skills,” she says. “Using just a finger on the pulse and examining a patient to make a correct diagnosis – using those skills rather than the 20 tests that they’ve ordered. Overseas they don’t have those 20 tests. It boosts their confidence in their skills because they have to depend on themselves and not the machines.”

Physicians with an established patient base may also see professional benefits from volunteering.

“A lot of physicians have talked about how it has enhanced their relationships with their patients,” she says. “If someone is travelling with us for two weeks to a month, their patients find out about this. It’s an opportunity for your patients to see you in a different light.”

Several organizations, such as Doctors Without Borders, are available for those who would like to volunteer with a group of medical professionals or who would like to provide immediate disaster relief.

“As challenging and as much work as it is to do it, whether you volunteer with HVO or another group, physicians will look back on it and say it’s one of the best things they’ve ever done,” says Fincham. “There are a lot of groups out there. They should find one that they like and just do it.”

For a list of volunteer opportunities, visit the American College of Physicians website.


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