By: Dr. Ken Teufel
Never before has it been this easy for physicians to spend two to three weeks, or even three to four months, volunteering their services abroad.
Physicians and clinicians have the option to work for two to four weeks as an emergency medicine physician in Ethiopia or provide oncology services in Bhutan. Perhaps you'd prefer a short-term assignment offering your surgical skills in Vietnam or leading a nurse education project in Uganda. Whichever path a physician chooses, AMA-endorsed Health Volunteers Overseas has assignments ranging in location, duration, and specialty.
As short-term opportunities increase, so does the workforce, driven by medical students, residents and young professionals who seek to address global health disparities in access to health care resources.
“Interest in global health … has never been higher,” says Dr. Brett Nelson, a member of the global health faculty at Harvard Medical School. Responding to this demand, “almost half [of U.S. medical schools] have established initiatives, institutes, centers, or offices for global health,” according to John A. Crump of the Global Health Institute at Duke University.
In addition, a growing number of residencies are now integrating global health training into their curricula. This often includes time blocks spent abroad working in resource-limited settings.
Once in practice, however, nurturing physicians’ interest in global health can prove problematic. Most practice lifestyles have built-in constraints such as on-call obligations and other contractual commitments that leave little time for even short stints overseas.
This is not a concern for the locum tenens physician. By combining locum tenens work with short-term volunteering abroad, they have the freedom and flexibility to chart a unique and rewarding career path while maintaining a reliable source of income.
(References: Journal of Graduate Medical Education, 2012 September, pp. 301-306. Health Volunteers Overseas website: www.hvousa.org)
About the author: Dr. Ken Teufel is the medical director at Interim Physicians, a pioneer locum tenens physician staffing firm based in St. Louis, MO that has provided quality physician coverage to hospitals, clinics and other healthcare facilities since 1979.