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Short-term Volunteers, Long-term Impact: How to be Ethical and Effective

HVO has just published an article entitled Health Volunteers Overseas: A Model for Ethical and Effective Short-Term Global Health Training in Low-Resource Countries in the Global Health: Science and Practice Journal.

Nearly 40 years ago, I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Korea. I learned first-hand how well-prepared and skilled volunteers can make significant contributions to others and address some of the world’s most pressing problems. I have the pleasure of putting this lesson into practice every day as the executive director of Health Volunteers Overseas.

Over the years, I have interacted with so many dedicated and energetic health professionals willing to share their knowledge and expertise with colleagues, and students, in lower-resource settings around the world. Since 1986, HVO health care professionals have undertaken more than 11,000 short-term volunteer assignments to teach, train and mentor others in more than 50 countries!

HVO has worked shoulder to shoulder with our partners through the years to develop projects that deliver on training outcomes, evolve as local priorities change, and help health care professionals to develop enduring professional mentorship relationships that continue long after an assignment has ended.

When considering HVO’s work, we think critically about how to approach every project, and consider the broader implications and long-term impacts. Some of the questions to consider include:

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?

Here are a few of the key lessons we’ve learned along the way:

  • Focusing on teaching and training health care providers is sustainable in both the short- and long-term. Building the capacity – knowledge, skills, and know-how of health care professionals is transformative for the professionals involved and their patients, as well as the health systems in which they work.
  • Establishing equitable and mutually beneficial partnerships with host institutions is vital to program quality.
  • Operating a well-structured volunteer management system helps volunteers to be prepared, thoughtful and effective while on assignment.

I encourage you to learn more about HVO’s volunteer management model and partnership philosophy:

To read more about capacity building models in global health, I encourage you to access the HVO-sponsored publication of the Special Research Topic, International Partnerships for Strengthening Health Care Capacity: Models of Collaborative Education

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