Medecins sans Frontieres in Canada

Volunteer opportunities for doctors and other skills

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) sends a couple hundred Canadians abroad each year. Half of them are medical professionals; the other half bring a mix of other skills, such as project management, engineering, accounting or construction to the teams delivering health care.

Simona Powell is responsible for recruitment for MSF Canada. She says volunteers tend to be at either end of their career; at the start, before they have family responsibilities, or in the late stage of their career, when they have the freedom to go abroad to work on a project for six to twelve months. At present, she says there is a shortage of midwives, doctors, nurses, mental health specialists, lab workers, human resources professionals, logistical experts and administrators.

They call their participants fieldworkers, not volunteers. Everyone is paid a small stipend and expenses are covered. The work is demanding, but sufficiently rewarding that many participants go out for repeat assignments. MSF encourages their field workers to speak out in their home countries about the situations they witness when they are on assignment.

A third of the participants are on their first mission. MSF selects about one in eight of the volunteers who apply. They screen to ensure that people will be able to cope with the assignments, with the rustic living conditions, and with the team working environment. MSF does not allow couples to go out together on their first assignment.

The MSF Volunteer Perspective

Asha Gervan has been a project coordinator on three assignments with MSF.

She describes joining a multi-national, multi-lingual teams, working in an intense environment, and delivering urgent medical services in difficult conditions. Living conditions can be very basic, and security can be a concern in some assignments.

She says that, while conditions can be stressful, it is easy to see the impact their work has on the people who come for treatment.

Asha says the MSF assignments have changed her sense about what is important to her.