Author: Elaine Hirsch
Medical doctors help change the world one person at a time, both at home and abroad. Those working in international development serve some of the neediest people in the world. They provide free and reduced-cost healthcare for people who would otherwise likely go without. Many would perish without their care.
International development holds many opportunities for doctors. Doctors with expertise in a particular area of medicine can be of great service in a field with few specialists. From front-line work in refugee clinics in Africa to administering efficient healthcare programs throughout the world, doctors make a positive difference.
When natural disasters strike, doctors can sign up to volunteer to provide emergency medical service at a moment’s notice in far-flung locations across the globe. The opportunity to serve in the middle of chaos can be exciting and devastating. Doctors working in these types of environments face death on a daily basis. However, they also provide hope in darkness for many.
Doctors can also work as educators. They might work for international development organizations that provide sexual health education or administrate international healthcare master's degree programs. They may also help people learn how to choose good foods to eat and the steps to take for better nutrition. Aspiring nurses and student-doctors in developing countries may also be their students.
Doctors working in developing parts of the world face lack of proper medical equipment, disease, poor sanitation, limited supplies, and other challenges. They do the best they can in trying situations and circumstances like refugee camps or the slums of some of the world’s largest cities. They might also work in rural areas without any permanent healthcare facilities. Dr. Sachin Desai is one doctor with Doctors Without Borders who has traveled around the world providing medical care in such places.
With their knowledge of working on the ground in a particular country, doctors working in international development may move up the ranks to become administrators there or in other areas facing similar problems. Dr. Gedi Mohamad, the first Kenyan Somali doctor to run the Doctors Without Borders program in the Dagahaley refugee camp in Kenya, is an example of a doctor with cultural and linguistic ties to his patients making a positive difference in their lives. Doctors may also go on to work as consultants to help design good health care programs in international communities.
Others may choose to start their own organizations to serve in other countries. Dr. Paul Farmer, for example, started Partners in Health, an organization that mainly serves people in Haiti.
If you want to serve in international development as a physician, you might first identify organizations whose missions interest you or which work in parts of the world you may like to live and work. Working overseas is a serious and often difficult commitment, especially for doctors. Talking with other doctors to find out what their experiences have been in international development can help prepare you for your work's challenges and profound rewards.
About the author:
Elaine Hirsch is kind of a jack-of-all-interests, from education and history to medicine and videogames. This makes it difficult to choose just one life path, so she is currently working as a writer for various education-related sites and writing about all these things instead.