Year in review: Top 5 highlights at HVO in 2019

In 2019, Health Volunteers Overseas continued to work shoulder-to-shoulder with our partners around the world to achieve our vision of a world where all people have access to high quality health care delivered by local health professionals. Throughout the year, we implemented and maintained projects that delivered on training outcomes, adapted projects as local priorities evolved, and continued to foster and grow our global health network.

HVO’s mission has always focused on education and training, with the goal of building the capacity of health systems. As HVO has grown, so too have our methods for providing education. Some key moments from the year highlight our core mission and work, as well as our expanding approach. Here are the top highlights of the year:

New Partnerships and Projects

HVO launched eight new projects in 2019. These included projects in obstetrics and gynecology, internal medicine, and pediatrics with a new overseas partner, the Kabale University School of Medicine in Kabale, Uganda. HVO initiated an oncology project in Hanoi, Vietnam, an orthopaedics project in Mwanza, Tanzania, a hematology project in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and a wound care project in Kampot, Cambodia. Our work in Bhutan expanded to include a new emergency medical responder project in partnership with Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan and National Referral Hospital.

The Rita Feinberg Fellowship for Long-Term Volunteers

HVO launched the Rita Feinberg Fellowship for Long-Term Volunteers in March 2019. This new opportunity, funded by a generous grant from the Wyss Medical Foundation, is the first significant variation to the HVO volunteer model, enabling HVO to meet requests from our partner institutions that require focused, long-term volunteer assignments at specific project sites.

While the core of HVO’s model relies on the utilization of short-term volunteers, HVO recognizes there are critical needs at many of our partner institutions that require longer volunteer placements to ensure effective, sustainable solutions. We established the Rita Feinberg Fellowship to address those needs and to provide financial support to volunteers able to commit to assignments of 3-6 months in length.

In 2019, HVO began offering fellowships for pathology/forensic medicine and quality assurance at National Referral Hospital in Thimphu, Bhutan; pediatric medical education at Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap, Cambodia; and spinal orthopaedics at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre in Moshi, Tanzania.

This fellowship is dedicated to the memory of our dear friend and colleague, Rita Feinberg, who championed our commitment to strengthening health systems through education, training and mentorship.

Ethical and Effective: Sharing the HVO Model

In September 2019, the Global Health: Science and Practice Journal published Health Volunteers Overseas: A Model for Ethical and Effective Short-Term Global Health Training in Low-Resource Countries, which discusses the HVO volunteer model. The article allowed us to expand on how HVO ensures ethical and effective volunteerism and answered some of the key questions we ask with every project, such as:

How can we ensure that our partner institutions are getting the support they want and need; that health care providers who serve in short-term teaching and training assignments are effective; how do we help volunteers to prepare both personally and professionally; and, how do we assess the contributions of volunteers to the delivery of quality care at project sites?

The article highlighted three core attributes that enable short-term volunteers to make incremental contributions to long-term outcomes at host institutions: (1) focusing on teaching rather than service delivery, (2) engaging in mutually beneficial and equitable partnerships with host institutions, and (3) operating within a structured volunteer management system.

E-volunteering at HVO

Last year, HVO launched the e-volunteer initiative to help us track work done by volunteers outside of their on-site visits. We know that many HVO volunteers remain actively engaged with sites long after their assignments end, providing support via email, Skype and other communication tools.

In 2019, we expanded our efforts to capture and track the work of our volunteers. Initial reporting from volunteers shows that more than 3,000 volunteer hours were contributed to e-volunteer activities including mentorship, research support, clinical consultation, and teaching and training.

Wyss Scholars

The Wyss Scholarship for Future Leaders in Global Health seeks to develop and support a cadre of future leaders in the health care sector in resource-scarce countries by supporting the professional development of local health care providers at HVO project sites. Wyss scholars are providers who have demonstrated leadership potential by their willingness to share knowledge and skills, their involvement in local professional associations, and their interest in broadening an understanding of their specialty’s role both nationally and globally.

Similarly, the Warfield Scholarship for Anesthesia Professionals funds professional development of anesthesia providers from HVO project sites. The Warfield Scholarship supports local health workers in resource-scarce countries by enabling them to pursue new training and professional development opportunities that improve their knowledge and expand their global network.

In 2019, HVO funded thirteen Wyss and Warfield scholars; we have awarded more than 50 scholarships since 2015.

In a recently conducted survey of scholars, all spoke of how their leadership skills improved, which led to their taking on more responsibility at work and, in some cases, considering the pursuit of higher education opportunities.

Scholars noted improvements in their clinical skills and communication skills, as well as an increased awareness of their profession’s global role. These young professionals are the future of health care in their countries; by supporting their professional advancement, HVO is supporting the advancement of stronger, more resilient health care systems.

These accomplishments and the ongoing efforts are possible because of the contributions of partners, volunteers, members and donors. We are grateful for the commitment of so many to ensuring quality care is available for all!

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