You’d like to volunteer but it’s not that easy – Part 2

Eye-opening hospital work experience
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What you can do to get that all-important experience & prove your credentials

Besides the requisite training and background, one of the key attributes required for health professionals to succeed in emergency settings is adaptability. You have to be medically and psychologically fit to cope with extreme and resource-poor environments. Learning to triage, keeping calm and accepting the conditions of the field are crucial for success in these positions. If you have not had experience in any emergency situation, there’s no way for any disaster relief organisation to know whether or not you are capable of doing what is needed.

Personal travel, no matter how adventurous or daring, is not the same as working and living in the field. While it says a lot about your ability to adapt to challenging situations and will earn you some brownie points, there’s still no comparison between leisure travelling and travelling to do relief work in a disaster area.

What hiring managers are looking for are volunteers and aid workers who have lived in an environment like this before. They want to know if you are fully aware of what you are letting yourself in for.

If you have not had any prior disaster relief experience, have you at least lived and worked in a resource-poor developing country for a significant amount of time? How did you handle that? Can you handle living for long periods of time without the luxuries and comforts that you are otherwise accustomed to? In situations such as these, where something as basic as hot water is considered a luxury, having a high-speed internet connection may be beyond any reasonable expectations. Can you manage without?

These are serious questions to ask yourself before volunteering to go out into the field when disaster strikes. More importantly, you need to find a way to prove yourself to hiring managers.

Scrubbed up and ready to observe a day in surgery One way to address both of the above concerns – determining whether or not you are ready to volunteer for relief missions AND proving it to relief organisations – is to go on a medical placement. While there is absolutely no comparison between doing relief work in emergency situations and working in a non-disaster environment, it helps to address one part of what hiring managers are looking for – that you have lived and worked in a healthcare setting in a resource-poor developing country for a significant amount of time.

Doing a medical placement in places such as Tanzania or Chiang Mai exposes you to the realities of healthcare in developing countries, where even during peace time basic amenities are inadequate and luxuries are non-existent. Knowing that you have had this experience and you would still like to volunteer for a disaster-relief mission speaks volumes about your dedication and commitment to the cause and will give you that essential qualification that all global humanitarian organisations are looking for – experience.  

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