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xcon2run

Volunteering Abroad

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Hey all,

 

I have a general question for a friend of mine. What are some good volunteering programs abroad that give you some medical exposure and would look solid on an application? In particular, looking for a company that has a good reputation among pre-meds. 

 

Thanks for the help!

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The general consensus here is that volunteering abroad is no different from volunteering in your own community.

 

if you really just want to travel, and have the money - then by all means, do what you like. But it sounds like you just want to have more stuff to add to your CV. It's not worth it, you can do many greater things in your own community. Plus, in Canada I would say helping the aboriginal community would look better on application than helping kids on another continent.

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The general consensus here is that volunteering abroad is no different from volunteering in your own community.

 

if you really just want to travel, and have the money - then by all means, do what you like. But it sounds like you just want to have more stuff to add to your CV. It's not worth it, you can do many greater things in your own community. Plus, in Canada I would say helping the aboriginal community would look better on application than helping kids on another continent.

Oh I agree too, all my volunteering is in Canada (and some with the aboriginal population actually). Its just a friend of mine who is finishing undergrad is taking a year off before applying and would like to get some travelling in while improving her application.

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Its just a friend of mine who is finishing undergrad is taking a year off before applying and would like to get some travelling in while improving her application.

 

And this, casting no stones at your friend, is why many people roll their eyes at overseas volunteerism. 

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Ugh, stuff like this frustrates me. You should not really be getting much "medical exposure" beyond what you'd get volunteering in a hospital in Canada. I feel like so many people (not necessarily you OP) are really asking where to go where they will be allowed to do things they wouldn't be allowed to do in Canada. Just because you're in a third world country doesn't mean you get to practise skills beyond your training on people who don't have your advantages in life.

 

Rant, sorry. And it's not necessarily directed toward the OP, just this subject in general.

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Ugh, stuff like this frustrates me. You should not really be getting much "medical exposure" beyond what you'd get volunteering in a hospital in Canada. I feel like so many people (not necessarily you OP) are really asking where to go where they will be allowed to do things they wouldn't be allowed to do in Canada. Just because you're in a third world country doesn't mean you get to practise skills beyond your training on people who don't have your advantages in life.

 

 

yeeee UNETHICAL! 

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Volun-tourism irks me. It seems blatantly obvious to me that most people just go there for the vacation aspect, not for the volunteering aspect (because why would you fly halfway around the world otherwise). "2 week volunteering trip" should really read "built a school for 2  days then went scuba diving for 12". That's not to say these aren't cool experiences to have, but I don't think they are quite the grandiose, altruistic acts many make them out to be. I hope med admissions are smart enough to see through this kind of stuff.

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I am curious though, what if people go to places specifically to help out and in order expand their world view? I am against volunteerism, but there's got to be people who do it for the right reasons, no?

 

Ultimately, I am pretty jealous of the people who can afford to do this. But I kind of feel like we're generalizing everyone who internationally volunteers

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If I were to see any volunteering abroad where the applicants claim to perform some "medical procedures", I would immediately toss out their applications without no second look, even if they have 4.0 GPA and 45 MCAT. 

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I am curious though, what if people go to places specifically to help out and in order expand their world view? I am against volunteerism, but there's got to be people who do it for the right reasons, no?

 

Ultimately, I am pretty jealous of the people who can afford to do this. But I kind of feel like we're generalizing everyone who internationally volunteers

 

Is there "a right reason" though?

 

If you want to help people in other countries, unless you happen to have exceptionally unique and useful skills, it's far more helpful to simply put the money towards projects done by people already living there.

 

If you want to expand your worldview, read a book or something. Ok, there is something to be said for experiencing something in person, but for those who want that, just go and travel or live in those countries. Explore a little! Voluntourism provides a very sanitized experienced - often, you're not getting the reality of life in other countries, you're getting an experience that those running the voluntourism enterprise think that you want to get.

 

Keep in mind that voluntourism can actually be harmful to the countries. Sometimes people lose paid work to voluntourists. There are more than a few reported instances of manufactured voluntourism, such as caring for fake orphans, or building a school that has to be redone - with great effort and expense - by someone who actually knows how to build a school. The best things voluntourists provide is the funds to pay for their room and board, so if you want to see another country, just go there! Buy some funny trinkets, eat some weird food, go to a tourist trap. You'll doing a lot more good for that country than failing at some contrived volunteer task and you'll get a more accurate expanded worldview by simply living in their communities.

 

There are some people who go abroad to volunteer who are helpful, but by-and-large, they aren't pre-meds. They're professionals with valuable skills that are genuinely lacking in those countries. These professions' main roles are in disaster response, difficult infrastructure development, and most importantly, teaching other their valuable skills. There are also individuals with significant training in aid work who go overseas and they can do some good, but that's their career and they often live in those countries long-term. These are the people going to underdeveloped countries who are doing some good.

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Boom.

You contribute a lot to these forums UBC, and I say this with all due respect. But the "boom." and quote has such a pretentious connotation to it. Additionally, it really don't contribute anything to the conversation besides cluttering up the thread. I think thanking is a better alternative.

 

Not saying you are pretentious or willingly being denigrating. It just comes across that way with the boom posts.

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You contribute a lot to these forums UBC, and I say this with all due respect. The "boom." and quote has such a pretentious connotation to it. And it really don't contribute anything to the conversation - the quoted posts just clutter up the thread.

Fair enough, I can see how that would be interpreted! I was out of "likes" for the day, and Ralk's post really resonated.

 

He/she made all of the same points I would have made, with the bonus of encouraging contributions to the local economies through self-directed travel :)

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Fair enough, I can see how that would be interpreted! I was out of "likes" for the day, and Ralk's post really resonated.

 

He/she made all of the same points I would have made, with the bonus of encouraging contributions to the local economies through self-directed travel :)

Today I learned you can run out of likes. 

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Fair enough, I can see how that would be interpreted! I was out of "likes" for the day, and Ralk's post really resonated.

 

He/she made all of the same points I would have made, with the bonus of encouraging contributions to the local economies through self-directed travel :)

Heh no worries. I really appreciate your posts and perspective. I kept editing my post trying to figure out the best way to express that while highlighting my sentiment :P

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Some fairly strong opinions against the short term medical trips.  I propose that there are some positives both for the student and the local communities. 

The ones involving mobile medical/dental clinics do alot of good.   They work in areas that have zero basic medical care in remote areas of Nicaragua or Panama as example.  Most trips are 10-14 days.   They are short , so it is true that there is really not alot that can be accomplished by any one individual in such a short time.    The student does get a taste of the state of (lack of)  medical care in 3rd world countries.  They get to see the dedication and passion that the doctors, dentists, nurses that are on the trip have for their work.  It also makes the student aware of how lucky we are in Canada.

The costs of the trips are expensive.   The reality is that about half of the price of the trip goes to funding the mobile clinic.  With 25 students on a trip - it provides $25,000 to fund the clinic for the week.    It pays for equipment, supplies, and partial salaries for the paid doctors and nurses on the trip.  Many of the professional staff are local to the country.  Some come as volunteers as well.    Without the students paying for the trip - the mobile clinics would not occur.

The students essentially do all the grunt work such as packing/unpacking, setting up & organizing.  They get to partially shadow what the doctors and nurses are doing and help in the non-medical aspects.  They get to do things like hand out vitamins or parasite medications, record keeping, and basic health promotion.  Students do learn things by observing.

In a 10 day trip there may be 5 clinic days which are 12-14 hour days.   The days in between involve travel and some downtime.  The days around the remote clinics include billeting at a local family.  The billeting can be as much an eye opener as the clinic days.  The trips may finish up with a beach day or similar (1 day out of 10).

For people who did respond to this thread, have you been on a VIDA or Medical Brigades or similar ?   If you have not, are you in a position to comment ?   Watching a few TED talks  or volunteering in a local Canadian hospital pushing the snack cart is not  the same as what you can see first hand on these trips.

For the comments of people who said just go travel instead,  not many people are brave enough to venture to a place like Nicaragua or Ghana on their own - let alone go into a rural area with no water or power.

For the skilled professionals like doctors and nurses and dentists that do volunteer for 1-2 month stints in " xx without borders",  did you think maybe they became aware of the need from a VIDA trip in their undergrad years ?

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Ralk sums up how I feel about this. Visiting and spending your money will probably be of more benefit to the country as a whole than volunteering. Plus, why not volunteer at home where you can do it for a longer and more meaningful period of time, that I believe would look more impressive and be much more worthwhile.

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I read somewhere (probably on this forum) that international volunteer experiences aren't considered any better than volunteering in one's own community as the abroad experiences are often only available to the financially elite, or at least those who can afford it, which brings up questions/debates regarding "equality of access" (or something along those lines) in the admissions process. 

 

Plus, I've heard that they won't pull much weight because most of these abroad experiences have a large focus on sightseeing for the volunteers.

 

Of course this is all hearsay, but basically everything is when it comes to EC's. 

 

IMO, working abroad may be different, because your primarily there for the job that you'll be doing and because you'd be getting paid, which lessens that "financial gap" between the social classes.  

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Some fairly strong opinions against the short term medical trips.  I propose that there are some positives both for the student and the local communities. 

 

The ones involving mobile medical/dental clinics do alot of good. They work in areas that have zero basic medical care in remote areas of Nicaragua or Panama as example.  Most trips are 10-14 days.   They are short , so it is true that there is really not alot that can be accomplished by any one individual in such a short time.    The student does get a taste of the state of (lack of)  medical care in 3rd world countries.  They get to see the dedication and passion that the doctors, dentists, nurses that are on the trip have for their work.  It also makes the student aware of how lucky we are in Canada.

 

The costs of the trips are expensive.   The reality is that about half of the price of the trip goes to funding the mobile clinic.  With 25 students on a trip - it provides $25,000 to fund the clinic for the week.    It pays for equipment, supplies, and partial salaries for the paid doctors and nurses on the trip.  Many of the professional staff are local to the country.  Some come as volunteers as well.    Without the students paying for the trip - the mobile clinics would not occur.

 

The students essentially do all the grunt work such as packing/unpacking, setting up & organizing.  They get to partially shadow what the doctors and nurses are doing and help in the non-medical aspects.  They get to do things like hand out vitamins or parasite medications, record keeping, and basic health promotion.  Students do learn things by observing.

 

In a 10 day trip there may be 5 clinic days which are 12-14 hour days.   The days in between involve travel and some downtime.  The days around the remote clinics include billeting at a local family.  The billeting can be as much an eye opener as the clinic days.  The trips may finish up with a beach day or similar (1 day out of 10).

 

For people who did respond to this thread, have you been on a VIDA or Medical Brigades or similar ?   If you have not, are you in a position to comment ?   Watching a few TED talks  or volunteering in a local Canadian hospital pushing the snack cart is not  the same as what you can see first hand on these trips.

 

For the comments of people who said just go travel instead,  not many people are brave enough to venture to a place like Nicaragua or Ghana on their own - let alone go into a rural area with no water or power.

 

For the skilled professionals like doctors and nurses and dentists that do volunteer for 1-2 month stints in " xx without borders",  did you think maybe they became aware of the need from a VIDA trip in their undergrad years ?

 

No one has suggested that volunteering locally will give you the same experience as abroad, they are arguing that if your intentions are to do good, you can do so in your own communities without buying into an exploitative and ethically questionable practice only done by premeds who have the money to do so. OP just wants to go on vacation, get medical exposure he can't here, and boost his app. The reality is that most of these organizations are not like the 2 that you've mentioned, and there is plenty of literature written on the topic as to why they often do more harm than good.

 

I also resent the suggestion that perhaps doctors part of organizations like MSF became aware of medical needs and shortages abroad simply by participating in voluntourism, or that that should be a purpose of these trips. There are plenty of ways to become more worldly and aware of inequalities without participating in this practice. If you need a trip like this to understand how lucky we are in Canada, the state of medicine in the "third world", etc, that's incredibly unfortunate, and a bit suspect. Further, many of us do not need to participate in one of these trips to gain what you claim are benefits- we/our parents hail from these parts of the world, and we are familiar with the current state of affairs. To ask whether the people commenting have been on these trips is ridiculous, because some of us have seen first hand the delusion that is that these programs help anyone but premeds themselves.

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No one has suggested that volunteering locally will give you the same experience as abroad, they are arguing that if your intentions are to do good, you can do so in your own communities without buying into an exploitative and ethically questionable practice only done by premeds who have the money to do so. OP just wants to go on vacation, get medical exposure he can't here, and boost his app. The reality is that most of these organizations are not like the 2 that you've mentioned, and there is plenty of literature written on the topic as to why they often do more harm than good.

 

I also resent the suggestion that perhaps doctors part of organizations like MSF became aware of medical needs and shortages abroad simply by participating in voluntourism, or that that should be a purpose of these trips. There are plenty of ways to become more worldly and aware of inequalities without participating in this practice. If you need a trip like this to understand how lucky we are in Canada, the state of medicine in the "third world", etc, that's incredibly unfortunate, and a bit suspect. Further, many of us do not need to participate in one of these trips to gain what you claim are benefits- we/our parents hail from these parts of the world, and we are familiar with the current state of affairs. To ask whether the people commenting have been on these trips is ridiculous, because some of us have seen first hand the delusion that is that these programs help anyone but premeds themselves.

I'm already accepted to med folks, I'm asking for a friend who is currently finishing up her undergrad. She came to me seeking advice and I personally had not done it so I said I would post in the forum because I know people here have. 

 

Personally I'm not a fan of it either (similar viewpoints to ralk) and I have never been abroad to volunteer. 

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I'm gonna give my 2 cents because I have done quite a bit of volunteering i.e close to 300 hours in a hospital, physician's office, charity, etc

 

Generally I believe that if people are truly interested in volunteering and making a difference they should do it in their own communities. You are applying to a CANADIAN medical school not an AFRICAN or SOUTH AMERICAN medical school.I honestly think it makes more of an impact if you contribute to your own communities at home rather than overseas.  

 

I think you should ask yourself if you are a health professional would you go again? If the answer is no then why go if you aren't one? 

 

I understand that people could argue that they get more experiences and see more things but I think personally it's a load of crap that people with money can afford to do and say they've helped out in a third world country. 

 

my point is: make a difference in Canada before shelling out cash to go elsewhere to "make a difference"

Edited by cookiemonster99

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