What You Need to Know About Medical Volunteering - African Impact Blog

Having spent twelve years running our own volunteer programs in Africa, we know a thing or two about what it takes to be a valuable volunteer. This World Health Day, we want to share some advice on why you should consider using your skills abroad on a medical program, and also some thoughts to consider before signing on the dotted line.

Volunteer dressing wound of community member

On some of our projects, volunteers have the opportunity to walk through villages attending to patients who caanot afford healthcare at an institution.

1. You will help others!

If this isn’t your overarching goal for volunteering, perhaps don’t buy your plane ticket as medical volunteering isn’t for the fainthearted. For those with a passion for helping others (and an invested interest in the healthcare field, of course) you will undoubtedly touch the lives of others while on your placement and provide support, care and knowledge to the patients and healthcare professionals you work alongside.

But can I help if I’m not a fully trained medical professional?

You’ll have read, and hopefully questioned, whether unqualified medical volunteers can have any impact at all, and the answer really depends on what organization you choose to volunteer with. By choosing an ethical, responsible and experienced provider, you will be placed where you are most valuable and comfortable.

2. It will open your eyes to the challenging conditions others live in and give you a new perspective

Many people living in under developed areas of Africa don’t have access to the same quality of medical facilities and treatments that many of us take for granted. While you will have to approach it with an open mind and be prepared to see the struggling conditions people live in, your perspective will be forever changed. Trust us, you will go back home with a new lease of life, and a renewed passion to keep making positive change in the world.

Community nurses weighing babies

Our medical volunteers assist local healthcare workers with daily tasks, like weighing babies in the photograph

I can find more positive in negative situations now, I’m less pessimistic because the people here are positive despite some hardship.

Emily Catherine Jones Medical volunteer, Kenya

3. Meet new people from all over the world

Volunteering invites you to meet people from all walks of life, who you wouldn’t usually cross paths with. The beauty of volunteering is that you are thrown together with like-minded people, who all want the same thing… to help others. It gives you the chance to form real relationships that can have a lasting impact on your life. You could meet your new best friend, future business partner or have a conversation with a local that sparks a real change in your life.

Plus, having contacts all over the world means there is always a spare couch when you travel abroad next time!

4. Be inspired by how people deal with limited resources and take with you new, innovative ideas

Whilst volunteering on a medical program, you will quickly come to realize that the healthcare professionals you work alongside go about their daily jobs with very limited resources. While this can be extremely distressing when in the case of depleted stocks of HIV medication, you can also find plenty of inspiration in the way they care for their patients and find solutions that you would never have thought of before.

Volunteer listening to heartbeat of community member

Medical volunteering in Africa tests the creativity of volunteers from developed countries. Working with few resources in areas where patients are located remotely enables volunteers to tap into their textbook knowledge and natural ability.

5. Gain professional career experience

Medical volunteering is the perfect way to gain practical experience in the healthcare sector, as it allows you to explore different roles and find your best fit. Understandably, the majority of volunteer opportunities will not allow you to practice medicine abroad (without the appropriate license), but the experience and transferable skills that you learn will be extremely useful throughout your future career.