Volunteering is such a wonderful thing to do. It boosts your sense of compassion and humanity and teaches you a lot. I’m not just talking about medical volunteering but volunteering in general is wonderful. Even if you’re not doing it for your own sake, at least do it because to build your CV. You’ll be doing it for the wrong reasons but you’ll be helping people in the process. There are so many volunteering opportunities from helping the homeless to traveling doing volunteer work abroad and regardless of what it is, it will leave you satisfied and a better person at the end of it.
Physicians who have participated in volunteer work have mentioned several benefits. One of these is that you’re not thinking about the economic aspect of it all. Your main focus is on helping people which for many doctors is the dream. Another benefit is that it teaches you compassion and how to work the minimal resources in poverty ridden areas of the world. It also gives you a break from the stressful life physicians lead and the burnout and depression that come along with it. Of course there are downsides to volunteering such as the restraints and limitations that come with working in a poor area or country as opposed to all you have available to you at a hospital, but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.
In your practice you have to see a new patient every 15-30 minutes. Most of your patients will probably be coming in for a follow up so you’re not really expanding your medical experience. Of course you’re also thinking about the economic aspect of it and things like the medical insurance and getting paid. These definitely take away from your experience as a doctor. When you first decided you want to be a doctor you were probably thinking about the lives you could save and how much of a difference you can make in people’s lives. A few years down the line and you realize you’re stuck in an office seeing a new patient every 15 minutes and it’s probably something you’ve already seen before and can deal with with your eyes closed. You can start losing your passion for medicine because of this as it may start turning into a regular desk job which no doctor ever wants. That’s why volunteering is a change from all that. You’re not thinking about the money or sending the patient for a consult at a different doctor probably because even if there is another doctor they’re probably going to be working as part of your group. That’s when you can focus on the humanitarian aspect of medicine rather than just the economy of it all.
When you volunteer you rediscover that sense of compassion that you had during your early days as a doctor. It’s sad and unfortunate but a lot of doctors forget the reason they’re doing this because of all the stress and how mundane the job becomes. Volunteering reverses that and brings out that compassion. You have time to actually listen to patients and their problems. If you’re somewhere like Syria for instance where there’s war you realize that there’s so much more to life. These people have bigger problems than you ever thought possible which puts things into perspective. It’s really great to be able to connect with people and if you’re lucky enough you’ll be able to change their lives for the better. The amazing thing is that they’ll never forget it, because they really needed help and you provided it at no expense for them. Having such an impact on the lives of others is an amazing thing.
Being a volunteer doctor or part of a volunteer doctor clinic will teach you a lot from a medical aspect as well. You may not have the latest tools at your disposal so you’re going to have to make do with what you have. You’ll also get the opportunity to see things you’ve never seen before because they’re almost nonexistent in the U.S while they’re abundant and endemic in other parts of the world. So, if you’re looking to build yourself as a doctor this will definitely do that too. You can also use it as an opportunity to do some research (with the consent of the people of course) on a disease that you don’t get to work with in America.
If all of that doesn’t sound convincing or appealing to you then think of it as a break. Instead of working in your office for long hours every week seeing a patient every 15 minutes and having to deal with the same responsibilities every single day and month, you can volunteer and take a break from it all. If that’s what you’re looking for then you should probably not go to a war ridden zone or somewhere where the conditions are really poor though. You may not volunteer as a doctor at all and just do some humanitarian work. Even if you go somewhere where the living conditions are poor it’s still a break from your routine life. A lot of doctors said that volunteering helped them get rid of burnout. If you’re starting to suffer from burnout or depression then you may want to break that chain and volunteer somewhere that reminds you of why you became a doctor in the very first place.
There are of course restraints to volunteer work. First of all, you may not get paid at all. In fact you may have to pay out of your own pocket the travel and accommodation expenses. There are organizations that pay these things for you and even give you a salary, but others don’t. Also if you’re uncomfortable working somewhere where your life may be in danger then you’re going to have to carefully select where you want to volunteer. Then there are the technological restraints as you may not have the luxury of ordering plenty of investigations simply because they’re not available or because they’re too expensive. You may not even have the necessary treatment or the means to acquire it. This may end up being a good thing if you learn to work around that and push yourself so that you don’t have to rely on certain investigations too much. So consider it as an opportunity to learn and sharpen your clinical skills.
Organizations such as Doctors Without Borders are great at providing you with the opportunity to work outside the United States and visit countries or areas in crisis that need urgent medical care and attention. It also has perks so that your travel and accommodation expenses are paid for. You even get a monthly salary. If you’re a doctor with some experience who isn’t afraid of taking risks then you may want to look into that in order to provide much needed help to those who really need it.
Being a doctor volunteer has plenty of benefits not just for those you’re helping but also for you. It gives you a break from your routine life where you do the same thing week in week out and constantly worry about the economy of it all. You don’t have to see a certain number of patients per day. You can spend enough time with a patient without needing to rush through the meeting and that way you get to really know then and understand their circumstances. By doing this you rediscover your passion for medicine and compassion for people too as you start seeing them as people again with different aspects to their lives. It also provides you with the opportunity to grow both as a doctor and a person as you start working without all the investigations and tools you have available back home.
What are some of the things you gained from volunteering?