With a sense of pride, we wish ‘bon voyage’ to lots of medical students who are jetting off to Fiji, Nepal, Cambodia, Ecuador, Namibia and Sri Lanka to do their international medical elective with DocTours. Meanwhile, closer to home, we have been receiving requests for dentists to help out in Balibo, Timor Leste, where our Rotary colleagues have built a new dental clinic. Social workers are also badly needed in Cambodia and Sri Lanka in the Community Development Programs to help provide and arrange support for families in distress. Happy reading, kind regards and please follow us on Facebook, Karin and Derek. P.S. we are building our presence on Instagram too!
What are some unexpected challenges of volunteering abroad?
Volunteering abroad with DocTours provides enormous opportunities to practice both clinical and leadership skills.
One of the most important skills you can bring to your volunteer program is effective communication. Volunteering in a developing country means that you will be working alongside and interacting with variety of foreign cultures and languages. Triage may be challenging even when working through an interpreter. Frequent and ongoing decisions on whether to treat or refer patients, form management plans and communicating instructions in a clear and concise manner – while checking that local staff have in fact understood fully!
Working in a team environment is invaluable when there are varied backgrounds across nursing, paramedics, and medical specialties. Sharing knowledge and experience helps everyone to learn new tips and develop a greater appreciation of other roles that facilitate better all-round care for the patients. You may be asked to present some first aid training to local teachers which can be an interesting and rewarding experience and much more powerful when delivered by a multi-disciplinary team.
The ability to work with limited resources and in an environment that may not be sterile is another challenge. Developing problem-solving skills, lateral thinking and the ability to improvise with a can-do attitude is important when volunteering. At home, where healthcare budgets are being cut, learning to appreciate whatever resources we have can be an advantage.
The international volunteer has unique experiences of teamwork, communication and lateral thinking which enhances your resume and potentially earn CPD points. Some volunteers do not include their volunteer experience – may be they feel that their employer wouldn’t view it as relevant? However, the common belief is that volunteer work communicates a well-rounded and compassionate individual, with a broader range of essential skills.
What are some unusual conditions?
Cambodia experiences the wet season during August-September. While working on his farm, a local farmer developed an infection from exposure to bacteria in the soil and water. The infection progressed to meliodosis, a tropical disease prevalent in South East Asia. By the time he arrived at hospital, he had developed multiple abscesses of the spleen and was experiencing nausea, vomiting, fever and abdominal pain. The staff conducted blood tests, x-rays and ultrasounds to confirm the diagnosis and the extent of the disease. He was provided with a two week course of antibiotics and was then well enough to be discharged and return home.