You’d like to volunteer but it’s not that easy – Part 1

September 3, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.

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Whether it is natural or manmade, when disaster strikes healthcare workers are the need of the hour. With that in mind, it’s easy to assume that anyone who applies as a volunteer will immediately be taken on – no questions asked. After all, with the huge amount of need out there, almost all aid organisations are stretched for staff and looking to recruit at short notice.   

Despite this pressing need for healthcare workers, you will find that it can be quite difficult to get your foot in the volunteering door. This can be frustrating for someone who would like to go and who ostensibly has all the requisite credentials. You are smart, educated and enthusiastic. Moreover you have travelled the world and have low salary expectations, so why would any disaster relief organisation be so reluctant to hire you or even take you on as a volunteer?

The answer may surprise you.

Gathered round observing a surgical procedure It’s experience that counts

While academic qualifications, enthusiasm and being an experienced traveller do count, emergency help in disaster areas calls for more than that. Extreme value is placed on prior experience. During a disaster, all hands are needed on board to try and contain the mounting fatalities. At times like this, you cannot be a newbie learning on the job. Experienced aid workers on the ground are too busy tending to the sick and the injured to have time to teach the ropes to someone who is overwhelmed by it all. 

Hiring managers from humanitarian organisations are extremely hesitant to give opportunities to volunteers who do not have demonstrated field experience. This can be frustrating for applicants who may have the aptitude, attitude and skills to do extremely well, but lack the essential experience.

Why experience is so important

There is a reason behind this and it is amply justified. Conditions in disaster areas are extreme. When you arrive at the scene, there is no time to familiarise yourself with the culture, the people, the weather or the food. Volunteers and aid workers are expected to dive right in and start dispensing much-needed care. Stories abound about inexperienced aid workers being unable to handle the conditions on ground – whether it is the casualties or the food or weather. Disaster relief organisations do not want to take the risk of taking on someone who will add to the already overwhelming task ahead of them. They want someone who is capable of working efficiently and independently despite the chaos all around them.

Besides, they would have invested a significant amount of time and money on your ticket and other initiation programmes. Taking a risk is not an option. What they need is proven credentials that you will be an asset to them and to the victims of the disaster. 

Look out for Part 2 and discover what you can do to gain those all-important credentials!