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Medical Volunteering Abroad

Experience a career in medicine with electives overseas

Volunteering on a medical elective on your gap year is a great way to gain experience if you are looking to pursue a career in medicine, while getting to travel the world at the same time. You will so be making a positive difference to people’s lives, whether you’re working in medicine, physiotherapy, or veterinary science.

Medical volunteering can cover all kinds of different things to match your skills and interests, and placements are available all over the world. You might work in a cutting edge hospital in New Zealand or a local medical facility in Tanzania. Depending on your existing qualifications, you might shadow and assist professionals to prepare you for formal training in the future or get more involved to put your previous training to the test. This means that, whatever stage of your medical career you’re at, medical electives are a valuable experience.

Below are some frequently asked questions about medical electives to help you decide if they’re the right move for you.

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How do I choose the right medical elective?

Medical volunteering can offer some unforgettable travel experiences, but you will also be expected to work hard for the duration of your placement. That’s the best way to get the most out of it. When choosing your placement you need to be prepared for the work involved, and choose a project that matches your skills, interests, and career aspirations. If the experience won’t be useful for your future career, you may not be motivated to see your placement through to the end.

So if you’re interested in pursuing a career in nursing, choosing a related medical elective can give you the chance to see if it’s right for you. If you have already completed some nursing training, the right volunteer placement can offer some invaluable real-world experience.

Always carefully read what a medical elective placement involves and consider if it’s right for you. If not, there’s probably another listed that is!

Where should I volunteer on a medical elective?

There are countries all over the world which provide medical volunteering opportunities. Many of them are in the developing world, where facilities may be lacking and there is a shortage of medical professionals. This offers you a real challenge and a chance to test your current skills, and promises to expand your knowledge and perspective on your chosen field.

So you might join a medical elective in Phnom Penh, Cambodia to shadow doctors and nurses working with minimal resources, volunteer in India in medical facilities that cater for those living in poverty, or work in a hospital in Namibia where some modern techniques are yet to become commonplace. Think carefully about your interests and existing skills, as these will likely dictate where in the world you end up volunteering.

Do I need any qualifications for medical volunteering?

There are medical electives available for many different levels of training and qualification. If you have no medical training at all, there are placements where you can observe professionals and offer basic assistance, thereby learning if the profession is right for you. If you have basic training or qualifications you may be able to find volunteer placements where you can directly assist medical professionals in their duties and treat it as on-the-job training. If you hold full medical qualifications already, you can find work delivering some medical treatment directly, or taking a much more hands-on role in assisting others, in order to broaden your experience. Whatever stage of your career you’re currently at, there’s a medical elective for you, whether in South America, Europe, South Asia or anywhere else.

Can I put medical volunteering on my CV?

Absolutely! It would be foolish not to include it. Whatever level of medical volunteering you have done, it represents a different kind of experience than most other applicants are likely to have. It also demonstrates your willingness to work hard and learn more about the trade. Even if the course or job you’re applying for is not medicine related, medical volunteering abroad looks great on your CV. Having lived abroad also equips you with important life skills (even if it doesn’t feel like it) that will make you more appealing during an interview with an employer, such as communication skills, organisational skills, and a general maturity. It will also give you a reference that isn’t your best friend pretending to be a former boss.

Do I need vaccinations for medical volunteering?

If you are planning to do any kind of medical work, especially in developing nations, you should talk with your GP a good amount of time before you are due to leave. They can advise you on what vaccinations and other precautions you should take before travelling. This is particularly important when you may be working in environments where diseases can spread, and with people who are unwell. Tell your doctor where in the world you are travelling and what you are likely to be doing in as much detail as possible. The more information they have, the better they can keep you safe.

Can I travel during a medical elective abroad?

One of the main advantages of volunteering abroad is living and working in another country. A medical elective is likely to keep you pretty busy day to day, but on your days off you’ll be free to explore the local area at your leisure. This is definitely something to consider when choosing your placement. Chances are you will make some friends in the course of your work, and they will soon become travel mates as you head out to explore. This can even benefit your work, as it will give the chance to meet local people and give you a complete view of your host country. And, depending on your plans, there is always the opportunity to travel after your medical elective placement is finished.

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