Health Volunteers Overseas 
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VOLUNTEER FAQS

Volunteering with HVO - Some Frequently Asked Questions

Who volunteers with HVO?

HVO sends qualified professionals overseas to train local health care providers in: anesthesia, dermatology, hand surgery, hematology, internal medicine, nursing education, oral health, orthopaedics, oncology, pediatrics, physical therapy and wound care. These highly skilled and experienced volunteers come from both private practice and university settings, with a significant number of retirees as well.

Where are HVO programs?

HVO manages clinical education programs in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. Currently HVO supports over 85 projects in more than 25 countries. Each project is different depending on the educational needs and health infrastructure of the country.

What do volunteers do while overseas?

HVO is a teaching and training organization. HVO volunteers train local health care providers, giving them the knowledge and skills to make a difference in their own communities. Volunteers are involved in a variety of activities - teacher training, developing or updating curricula, providing continuing education workshops, and mentoring students and residents. They may lecture, serve as clinical instructors, conduct ward rounds, and demonstrate various techniques in classrooms, clinics and operating rooms. The ultimate beneficiaries of the volunteers' efforts, of course, are people in need of health services, both current and future patients.

When does HVO need volunteers?

Unlike many organizations, HVO does not develop a schedule of "mission" trips and recruit volunteers to serve during those dates. Instead, we work with you and the site to determine the optimal time for your assignment. We do not have a schedule that you can review on the HVO website. However, if you subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter, the Net Connection, you will get regular updates of unexpected openings due to cancellations or last minute requests from sites.

How long do volunteers serve?

Most programs require that volunteers serve for one month, but there are a few one and two week placements available. Longer placements are also possible.

Who will be on my “mission”?

"Mission" is a phrase used by many organizations to describe their volunteer activities. Most people think of a "mission" in the context of a religious activity while others may have an image of a large team (20 to 30 people) of clinicians making a trip together. At HVO, we do not refer to volunteer assignments as "missions" since we think the word is misleading. HVO volunteers generally travel to a site individually or with one or two other colleagues.

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Does HVO send teams?

We do have some multidisciplinary programs (wound management, rehabilitation) where sending a team of health care professionals to a site makes sense. However, HVO teams are rarely more than three or four people.

Most HVO volunteers who serve are not part of a team. Instead they go on their own to a site where they will share their knowledge and expertise with health care providers. At any given site, there may be several volunteers (for example, a nurse educator, a physical therapist and a hand surgeon) at the facility at the same time. They will be working with different departments and may find that their volunteer activities do not overlap much.

“I am not sure I want to go alone! Can't I go with someone?”

First-time volunteers are often concerned about heading off to a remote part of the world alone. The fact is, however, that considerable planning goes into making the arrangements at the site for your trip. All sites have an On-Site Coordinator responsible for meeting the volunteer, handling initial introductions, etc. Housing arrangements are in place before you depart. You will also have the opportunity before you go to speak with returned volunteers from the site.

All of this means that you really are not alone! This is especially true since it is easy to keep in touch with your family and friends back home via e-mail or cell phone. After being at the site for a couple of days, you won't even think of yourself as being "alone" - you will have a host of new colleagues and acquaintances interested in learning from you and about you. Most volunteers, upon their return, comment on the incredible generosity of their hosts and the many new and rewarding friendships they have developed.

Can family members come too?

Spouses and families frequently accompany volunteers on their assignments. Often, family members (older than 18) are able to volunteer. Spouses without clinical training may work as teachers, administrators, or in some other capacity depending on the site. Since certain sites are more accommodating than others, volunteers should contact staff to discuss the feasibility of their families accompanying them overseas.

Who manages the programs?

Each program is managed by a volunteer Program Director in the US or Canada who is a health professional with HVO experience. The Program Directors are responsible for screening and orienting volunteers. They have extensive information about the sites -- the educational needs and priorities, local infrastructure and resources available, clinical capabilities of personnel, etc.

While the HVO staff may help make logistical arrangements and prepare the volunteers to teach, it is the Program Director and other returned volunteers who are the primary resources for clinically-oriented questions and concerns.

While the HVO staff may help make logistical arrangements and prepare the volunteers to teach, it is the Program Director and other returned volunteers who are the primary resources for clinically-oriented questions and concerns.

What about expenses? Are they tax-deductible?

Volunteers pay for transportation to and from the sites. Many sites provide room, board and daily transportation for volunteers once they arrive. Since HVO is registered as a not-for-profit with the US Internal Revenue Service, most travel, living expenses and related costs incurred by a volunteer are tax-deductible for those who file with the IRS.

What about insurance?

HVO volunteers, in their role as teachers rather than the primary providers of service, have not found liability insurance to be an issue. HVO adheres to local registration requirements in each country of service. Volunteers may have to submit documentation about their education, licensure, and certification status as part of the registration process. There usually is a fee associated with this registration process.

As for travel or health insurance, HVO does not have resources to provide any special policy to volunteers. Consult your insurance company regarding coverage provided by your policy while abroad. We strongly recommend that all volunteers procure medical evacuation insurance prior to departure.

What is the first step?

First, become a member of HVO. Dues provide the financial support needed to sustain the organization. Members receive a biannual newsletter which includes updates on program sites, as well as a monthly e-newsletter, the Net Connection, with information on volunteer openings and special needs. Members also have access to the HVO KnowNET, a web-based platform that serves as a virtual community for HVO members, volunteers, program directors, and colleagues at the sites. The HVO KnowNET has extensive resources to assist volunteers as they plan their educational activities.

To begin the placement process, you must submit your CV and the Supplemental Volunteer Information Form. Click HERE to begin the process. This step does not commit you in any way nor does it guarantee your selection. All volunteers with confirmed assignments must be members of HVO.

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When I decide to go, how do I prepare?

Volunteers have multiple resources at their disposal when preparing for an assignment. The most effective volunteers are those who take the time to learn about the country where they will be serving, as well as about the project.

Preparation is the key to an effective and successful assignment.
  • Talk with the Program Director and other returned volunteers
  • Visit the HVO KnowNET and review orientation materials available on the site. You can read program descriptions, trip reports from previous volunteers, and essential orientation information and well as access a variety of educational resources and materials to help you prepare for your assignment.
  • Read A Guide to Volunteering Overseas
    This is available as a PDF of the HVO KnowNET. This guide outlines the philosophy and goals of HVO as well as providing an overview on teaching in a cross cultural setting, preparing for your trip in terms of personal safety and health precautions.
  • Surf the web starting with the HVO web site.
  • What makes an effective volunteer?

    Creativity, flexibility, a sense of humor, a willingness to learn, adequate preparation, and a commitment to sharing knowledge and skills. Click here to read an article about Highly Effective Volunteers

    Volunteers do not need previous formal teaching experience to participate in HVO programs. It is not necessary to speak the local language since most of the training at sites is conducted in English. If the training is in the local language, then translators are available from among the local staff. However, any effort to learn the local language is always appreciated, and a good ice-breaker! Effective communication skills and teaching principles are covered in your pre-trip orientation.

    “This all sounds a little scary! I am not sure this is for me.”

    If you haven't traveled a lot, this certainly might sound intimidating. But that is why your conversations with your recruiter at HVO are so important. Your recruiter can direct you to those sites that might be closer to home. Your recruiter can have you talk with other volunteers who can answer your questions and respond to your concerns. Usually, prospective volunteers find that the more they talk with other volunteers and the more they learn about the program, the more comfortable they feel.

    At the same time, it must be said that volunteering is not for everyone. Being a successful volunteer requires a sense of adventure, the ability to be flexible and adaptable, and, at times, a good sense of humor. You need to be able to give up certain comforts (that daily latte, for example) and to work in a completely different environment where resources are scarce or absent altogether. You must remember that you are a guest and not in charge. Your advice and counsel may be sought but not implemented. Your "comfort zone" will be challenged, but that really is one of the joys of volunteering.

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