Should You Volunteer in a Disaster? Advice for Physicians

Ingrid G. Hein


June 04, 2015

In This Article

Supporting Existing Health Systems

A disaster zone with unaffiliated volunteers is awful, Fahim Rahim, MD confirms, after returning from Nepal. Managing partner of the Idaho Kidney Institute, host of a local radio show called "House Call," and licensed to practice medicine in Nepal, Dr Rahim rallied volunteers and donations, mostly through social media, to help in the aftermath of the earthquake with what he believes to be one of the biggest privately funded relief teams.

By the end of the first week on the ground, Dr Rahim had assembled a unified team of doctors, surgeons, paramedics, and friends from the United States, plus a group of nurses from Canada. Still, he says, the area around the airport was chaotic. "People didn't know where to start. They were scared to be outside. There was nowhere to pitch a tent, and everything was covered in rubble.

"Fear was a big problem. We experienced at least half a dozen earthquake aftershocks every day, with about a 3.3 magnitude." Dr Fahim had connections in Sindhupalchowk, one of 75 Nepalese districts. His group set up camp by a local hospital, and became their support team.

"It was like a war zone. The 320-bed hospital had more than 1300 patients. There were people recovering on the floor, in the alley, and camping. There were fractures from head to toe, casualties, and sick babies." The two surgeons were welcomed into the operating room to relieve the doctors who were fatigued from working around the clock.

"The best way to help is being part of the existing system," says Dr Fahim. "Flying solo is disaster tourism. You're better off going home if you're just drinking the water supplies and using the hotels."


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