Could you turn your hand to disaster response healthcare?September 4, 2014
When disaster strikes or conflicts break out, the number of people who need urgent medical help can be astronomical. During times such as these, healthcare and other aid workers hit the ground running in an attempt to contain the rapidly growing medical casualties and help improve living conditions.
Working in these areas is a long and difficult journey that can test the most experienced veteran. There is a lot of truth to all of the stories you would have heard about the challenging environment on ground in disaster-hit areas. The conditions are harsh, resources insufficient and the comforts of home are non-existent. Medicines and medical supplies run out faster than they can be supplied. Volunteering or working overseas with humanitarian organisations that provide emergency relief to disaster areas can truly be one of the most challenging endeavours you could embark upon.
So why do it?
It may be the one of the most difficult things you will undertake but ask any volunteer or aid worker why they do it, not just once but several times, and the answer is unanimous – it is also one of the most rewarding things you could ever do. The hugely motivating factor for individuals working in disaster-hit areas is the satisfaction that comes from knowing that they are doing the best they can to save as many lives as they can.
If you are a premed student, you gain both personally as well as professionally from volunteering. Besides enabling you to make a unique personal contribution, it can also help broaden your skill set, diversify your professional experience and fast track a career in humanitarian work. Above all, it will be nothing less than a life-changing experience.
Health professionals across all specialties play frontline roles in emergency settings, whether as volunteers or in a paid capacity. Surgeons, physicians, nurses, midwives, therapists, psychologists, anesthesiologists, occupational therapists, epidemiologists, nutritionists and lab technicians are always in demand during a disaster response.
In addition to the immediate help and medical care, healthcare workers are also needed for long-term development projects, where they generally complement the work of local staff and volunteers.
Essential attributes for volunteers and aid workers
During a disaster response, health care providers work long hours in highly stressful conditions without the physical, technological and staff support they would get back home. To be able to cope and work under such extreme conditions, air workers and volunteers need specialist expertise in trauma management, triage, emergency health management and disaster law as well as other relevant emergency fields. Having experience in international healthcare and cross-cultural settings and being a good communicator are essential assets in these situations.
Medical placements in developing countries offer you a unique opportunity to acquire firsthand experience in international healthcare in resource poor settings. This experience is an unwritten prerequisite for any global humanitarian organisation. While working in non-disaster areas during peaceful times can in no way be compared to the extreme conditions that exist in a disaster-hit or war-torn country, it does expose you to the realities of providing life-saving health care despite the lack of basic medical facilities and equipment. An experience such as this will help you discover your strengths and weakness with regards to volunteering in disaster-hit areas and help you realise whether or not you are up to it.