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Working with international medical aid organizations

Is working with an international medical aid organization right for me?

The self-assessment forms available from many medical organizations can help you reflect on why you want to work abroad, and decide whether it's right for you. Examples can be found at the the Canadian Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières .

How do I begin looking for organizations?

There are a few essential factors to consider.

  • Where do I want to go?
  • What type of work do I want to do?
  • What level of risk am I willing to accept?
  • How much time can I commit?

You can also check out medical aid organizations online, or speak with colleagues who have volunteered abroad. Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada has information on development projects.

What type of work suits me best?

There are many non-government organizations in Canada providing a wide variety of international aid. Once you decide what type of work you're interested in, it will be easier to select the kind of organization you want to be affiliated with — such as emergency disaster relief, humanitarian aid, development or provision of medical specialty services such as eye surgery.

For how long?

Beginning with short-term assignments may help you determine whether you are suited to this type of work. Volunteers can sometimes temporarily relieve a permanent staff member to allow him or her some time off. Many organizations have three- to six-month deployments but are beginning to look at shorter assignments.

Will I need additional training?

Generally, yes. Many medical aid organizations offer a training program or course to brief new volunteers on the organization and prepare them for work abroad.

Some organizations, like Médecins Sans Frontières, pay a monthly stipend and related expenses. Others do not.

Will I need a visa?

In most cases, you will. The aid organization involved will assist in obtaining your visa.

What about vaccinations?

You'll need them, but which ones depends on your destination. Immunization schedules are personalized according to the individual's immunization history, destination, type and duration of travel and the amount of time available before departure.

Consult a health care provider or travel medicine clinic two to three months in advance, to allow optimal time for immunizations to be completed. For a listing of immunizations you require, visit the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) . Travel health advisories are also posted online by PHAC.

How about health insurance?

Ask the relevant medical aid organization what, if any, health insurance coverage it will provide when you are working outside Canada. If it is not provided, you'll need to arrange your own with a private insurance vendor, listed online by the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada.

Will I be covered by malpractice insurance?

If you're a Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA) member, you may be eligible for assistance while doing work for established charities or missionary organizations outside Canada — except for work performed in the United States and all other countries where the U.S. legal system applies. (See the CMPA material on Care provided outside of Canada.) Consult the CMPA to confirm your eligibility for assistance at 1-800-267-6522.

Will I incur expenses?

Depending on the organization involved, you may incur some or all expenses related to your mission. Many of these will qualify as tax-deductible charitable donations, but check with your professional tax advice provider for details.

Can my family accompany me?

No, in most cases, but there are exceptions. Check with the medical aid organization involved.