Question: Hi HPA – Now that I’m vaccinated, I’m hoping to participate in a medical volunteer program abroad. I’ve found a few but they’re all very expensive and the university isn’t funding international experience this summer. Do you think it’s worth paying out of pocket for this kind of program?
Answer: The medical volunteer abroad industry has grown significantly over the years, with some very ethical, meaningful opportunities and some on the other end of the spectrum. We at HPA feel most comfortable with programs that are partnering with our campus programs like IIP and PICS – that way, we know that you have support from Princeton and that the programs have been endorsed. We maintain a list of programs in which Princeton prehealth students have participated on the Clinical Experience page of our website, but we do not endorse any particular programs; we recommend considering what these programs offer critically, and using the AAMC and ADEA guidelines for providing patient care internationally as you evaluate organizations.
Keep in mind that there are many vulnerable and underserved populations in the US who would benefit greatly from your assistance as a volunteer for the summer – do not feel that you can only make a difference by traveling abroad. In our conversations with medical school admissions offices during the pandemic, much emphasis has been placed on supporting your local community (as medical schools and students have been doing for theirs). This is not to say that others elsewhere aren’t in need, but the more people traveling, the more risk there is to these communities (even if you are vaccinated, it’s very possible that others on your trip may not be if the program hasn’t made it mandatory, and although the odds are reduced, it is still possible to get/transmit the virus when vaccinated). You’ll have to make your own best judgment on this. Here are some additional articles about volunteering abroad to consider as you decide how to invest your time and potentially your money this summer:
- AAMC The Do’s and Don’ts of Global Health Experience
- Guidelines for Undergraduate Health-Related Experiences Abroad
- The risks (and unexpected benefits) of sending health students abroad
- Dear volunteers in Africa: please don't come until you've asked yourself these four questions
- Seven reasons why your two week trip to Haiti doesn't matter: Calling bull on "service trips" and voluntourism