Should You Volunteer in a Disaster? Advice for Physicians

Ingrid G. Hein


June 04, 2015

In This Article

Going Where the Needs Are

Gillian Burkhardt, MD, has been globetrotting with relief organizations since finishing her residency. She studied in Cameroon and worked in the Congo while she was a resident. She has worked as an obstetrician/gynecologist in Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, and Liberia, and was a Peace Corps volunteer in Madagascar. Today, she works with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) (also known as Doctors Without Borders) and was recently in Sierra Leone caring for pregnant women with Ebola.

"It's incredibly rewarding," says Dr Burkhardt. "I love obstetric work, delivering babies and dealing with complications. Working in Africa for women's health, we see things that shouldn't happen. Women are dying of things that are unheard of in this country. Providing simple medicine and safe surgery is lifesaving."

The most important part of doing disaster and relief work is to have an open mind, she says. "You have to be ready to go where the needs are, not just where you want to go. Make sure you find an organization that fits you. Be vigilant; make sure you agree with their mission," she advises. "It's not as daunting as people make it out to be. If you're interested, you can make it happen."

Dr Burkhardt has a true passion for the multicultural work environment. "I like working with people from other countries and cultures, whether it's the host team or the MSF team. Often, I'm one of the only Americans. It's fascinating to see how other doctors approach clinical medicine."


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