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Vacation With a Purpose: Exploring Volunteer Opportunities in Healthcare

Healthcare Volunteer
© dizain / Fotolia

Most of us get into the medical field because we like helping people. We get a deep sense of satisfaction from offering our services to our patients. Sometimes, however, we desire to do more, whether it’s down the street or around the globe. Spending a few days or even weeks volunteering with those who otherwise would have little access to medical services can be a very rewarding experience.

Volunteer opportunities can allow medical staff to broaden their knowledge base, learn new skills, and might even boost resumes. A United Kingdom survey response of 200 leading businesses suggested that employers recruit candidates with volunteer experience over those without.

Whether your passion is treating injuries, preventing disease, or providing safe childbirth, there is a volunteer spot for you.  Check with your HR department, as some healthcare organizations allow employees to take some days off without penalty for volunteer work. They might even be willing to help fund your trip.

If you are interested in staying local, consider any local chapters of health-related non-profits, such as Planned Parenthood, the American Cancer Society, or the American Lung Association. You may also want to consider teaming up with the Red Cross, who step in during times of local and national disasters.

Red Cross Disaster Services

Disaster volunteers can become members of the Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) and respond to local disasters (fires, floods, storms, etc.). There are many specialized positions available, such as client casework, mental health services, shelter operations, mass care, and more. Experienced DAT volunteers can also become national volunteers who are deployed for 2-3 weeks when major disasters strike in the United States. Classroom training is required. One may commit for one week per month or on an as-needed basis.

International Healthcare Volunteer Opportunities

For those who wish to expand their horizons and volunteer in other countries, take a look at a few of the hundreds of international organizations who need medical volunteers.

GoAbroad.com

GoAbroad.com offers nearly700 volunteer abroad programs for nurses, involving more than 270 organizations.

Global Volunteer Network (www.globalvolunteernetwork.org)

Offers volunteer service opportunities in 21 countries, including elderly care programs in Guatemala that place volunteers at nursing homes and senior centers.

You may have a specific passion that you want to support, such as women’s healthcare or vaccinations. If so, look up organizations that specifically target that population, such as Operation Smile for children with cleft palate.

Operation Smile (www.operationsmile.org)

Every day, across 6 continents, Operation Smile medical volunteers make a difference in the lives of children with cleft lip and cleft palate.  They are in need of medical mission volunteers in the following specialties: cleft surgeons, anesthesiologists, pediatric anesthesiologists, pediatricians, pediatric intensivists, nurses (operating room, recovery room, or pre-/post-operative ward specialties), dentists, orthodontists, speech language pathologists, child life specialists and biomedical technicians.

Faith Based mission organizations

If you are part of a faith community, contact your local leadership and inquire about potential outreach opportunities either locally or globally. Many denominations offer a variety of mission trips annually that depend on healthcare volunteers to offer needed services. Dozens of faith-based non-profit organizations are in need of volunteers as well.

Samaritan’s Purse Emergency Relief

Responds to needs for medical personnel during emergencies around the world.  If you are a physician, dentist, PA, RN, BSN, or nurse practitioner and would like to serve in response to international crises, please e-mail emergency@samaritan.org.

If you are serious about volunteering, do your homework to decide which organization can best utilize your time and resources. Ask for referrals of past volunteers, look for a good rating on Guidestar or Charity Navigator, and you too, can be on your way to offering healing to another corner of the world.

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About Angie Best-Boss RN

Angie Best-Boss, ASN, BA, MDiv is a psychiatric nurse and freelance writer from the Indianapolis, Indiana area. Angie has three daughters and can usually be found with her nose in a book, crafting or, in warm weather, geocaching.