What you should know about working abroad in international healthcare

July 17, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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If you’ve always dreamed about working in international healthcare, there are countless opportunities for you to fulfil your dreams. From dealing with the latest emergency situations in Somalia or Libya, to long-term development work in other African and Asian countries, there is a growing demand for health workers across various specialties. According to the WHO, Sub-Saharan Africa, which has 25 % of the global burden of disease, has only 3 % of the global health workforce, which means healthcare workers are always needed to fill this huge gap. Joining an international healthcare organisation allows you to do exactly what you thought you would be doing when you dreamed of being a doctor.

As an international healthcare provider, you would be playing several different roles, from being a part of massive vaccination programmes in some countries to providing emergency medical care in countries stricken by war or some other natural disaster. 

Assisting a surgeon during the delivery! Why Getting Recruited Is Not All That Easy

What you should know however, is that despite the overwhelming need for healthcare workers, recruitment is still competitive and if you have little or no experience in international work, getting into the sector can be tough. This is because of two main reasons.

Firstly, more often than not, the number of applications that most organisations receive far exceeds the demand, especially for certain positions such as short-term placements, paid placements and humanitarian relief work.

Secondly, in the initial stages of a crisis, most organisations prefer to hire only from a pool of experienced health professionals. In an emergency situation, where teamwork and self-sufficiency are crucial, someone who is inexperienced could quickly find themselves out of their depth.  In some cases, even one inexperienced team member can make everyone else vulnerable. Lesser experienced candidates are often only considered after the crisis stabilises or after conditions improve.

Skill Development Can Help You Get An Edge Over The Competition

Skill development is the key to making your application stand out in such a competitive environment. 

Most humanitarian organisations prefer to recruit health care professionals who have at least two years post-qualification experience. While the exact specialties required depends on the organisation and the nature of the work, specialties such as midwifery, nursing, HIV/AIDS, surgery, general practice, public health, psychiatry and reproductive health and are often in high demand.

In addition, taking an introductory course on working in an emergency or completing a diploma in tropical medicine or nursing, will give you an edge over the others.

Gaining experience working in resource-poor, third-world countries can also be hugely advantageous.

It is practical skills rather than just academic qualifications that add considerable weightage to your application, with teaching, leadership, management and supervision topping the list.

Finally, knowing more than one language can also be hugely beneficial, especially if you speak French, Spanish or Arabic in addition to English, which is mandatory.