Should You Volunteer in a Disaster? Advice for Physicians

Ingrid G. Hein


June 04, 2015

In This Article

Health Volunteers Overseas

Health Volunteers Overseas is an organization that puts training, education and professional development of a health workforce in resource-scarce countries at the forefront of its mission. Guided by the principle of sensitivity and respect for cultural and social beliefs of the host country, Health Volunteers Overseas focuses on local diseases and health conditions, teaching, prevention, and promotion of lifelong learning.

The placement process has multiple steps, and often it takes several months to be assigned. Programs take place around the globe and range from physical therapy, pediatrics, and oral health to dermatology, hematology, internal medicine, and oncology.

International Medical Corps

Working hard to be the first responders in a an emergency, the International Medical Corps (IMC) works with the community, hires local staff, and develops partnerships at all levels. Their motto is "from relief to self-reliance." Of their staff of 7800 worldwide, 96% are recruited locally so that the skills to deal with adversity are passed into local hands.

A humanitarian nonprofit organization, IMC was established in 1984 by volunteer doctors and nurses. The organization looks for emergency response, nonmedical, and domestic volunteers. The organization also has a graduate internship program. IMC's emergency response volunteers must be available within 72 hours of being called, for a duration of 2-8 weeks. Preference is given to those who can deploy longer.

Partners in Health

Partners in Health (PIH) works toward making longer-term commitments to disaster zones and rural areas in need, especially to provide an option for the poor. The group builds movements to fight poverty, social injustice, and health inequities. The organization was founded by Dr Paul Farmer, a physician and anthropologist, and Ophelia Dahl (daughter of novelist Roald Dahl), a strong advocate for rights of the poor, after they met in Haiti in 1983.

When it launched in 1987, PIH delivered healthcare to Haiti's Central Plateau region before the earthquake. Today they have projects all over the world, including Rwanda, Lesotho, Malawi, Mexico, Russia, and Peru, and they have partnered with the Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment (COPE) project to serve Native Americans in the Navajo Nation in the United States.

Global Disaster Immediate Response Team

Global Disaster Immediate Response Team (DIRT) works in partnership with host countries and the United Nations on disaster response missions. The organization is well equipped with high-tech equipment for rapid response, and it deploys its medical team with all the support needed to be effective, including a reconnaissance team, communications team, and urban search and rescue team. Using the Special Force's small unit leadership model, response is provided within 24-48 hours of a disaster.

This NGO has deployed teams to Haiti, Pakistan, New Zealand, Japan, and recently to Nepal. They have ongoing operations in Japan and Haiti, including an emergency medical services project. DIRT maintains a database of volunteers to contact in case of a disaster. Most of the time, these are short-term deployments, and DIRT calls on those who are highly qualified and skilled for the region needing help.


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