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A Guide to Doctors Without Borders and Alternatives

Written By
By Munira Maricar
Travel Writer
medical volunteer in Central America

Are you passionate about medical humanitarian work and considering joining Doctors Without Borders? You’re not alone. Many healthcare professionals and volunteers are eager to contribute to global health and are actively exploring careers or volunteer opportunities in medical humanitarian work. Doctors Without Borders, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is a prominent NGO (non-governmental organization) in this field.

Whether you’re a medical professional or someone with a passion for global health, this guide provides essential information to help you make an informed decision. Additionally, recognizing that Doctors Without Borders may not be the right fit for everyone, we’ll explore alternative volunteer organizations that offer medical volunteer opportunities, such as IVHQ, GoEco, and more!

Let’s get started!

What is Doctors Without Borders?


Make a difference with like-minded individuals

Doctors Without Borders is a humanitarian organization dedicated to providing medical care where it is needed most. Founded in 1971, the organization operates independently and is guided by the principles of medical ethics and impartiality. Doctors Without Borders delivers medical aid in emergencies, supports healthcare infrastructure, and contributes to the well-being of communities facing crises with the help of volunteers.

The organization’s commitment to medical assistance in conflict zones and crisis-affected regions has made it a crucial player in global health efforts. Since its start, Doctors Without Borders has deployed medical professionals to various parts of the world, offering critical healthcare services to those in need.

Where Does Doctors Without Borders Operate?

Doctors Without Borders operates in more than 70 countries around the world, focusing on regions facing health crises and emergencies. The distribution of medical missions can change based on evolving healthcare needs and emergencies. While the organization has a strong presence in conflict zones and regions affected by epidemics, the specific locations may vary over time.

Who Can Join Doctors Without Borders?


Doctors Without Borders does crucial work in crisis zones worldwide

MSF is a non-profit which is operated and run by both paid staff and volunteers.

To qualify for positions with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), applicants are required to meet the following essential requirements:

  • Availability for a Minimum Duration: Volunteers must be available for a minimum of 9 to 12 months. (Surgeons, anesthesiologists, and OB/GYNs may need a minimum commitment of 8-12 weeks). Candidates committed to a long-term career in humanitarian aid are given priority due to the responsibilities and need for continuity in the international staff team.
  • Previous Experience in Low Resource Settings: MSF primarily operates in lower-income countries and unstable contexts. Therefore, prior experience in a low-resource setting is required, and working in a humanitarian context is highly recommended.
  • Relevant Professional Experience: All roles, including physicians, must have at least two years of relevant professional experience post-training or residency. Nurses are required to have three years of professional experience post-training.
  • Supervisory, Managerial, Teaching, and Training Experience: As international staff members often take on supervisory or managerial roles, previous experience in supervising, teaching, and/or training others is essential.
  • Ability to Work in a Diverse Team: Successful candidates must demonstrate the ability to work and live with a diverse team as MSF teams are from different professions and various cultural backgrounds
  • Flexibility and Adaptability: The nature of international programs means that activities and job descriptions can change rapidly. Volunteers need to be flexible and adaptable to evolving situations.
  • Computer Skills: Basic computer skills are required, including proficiency in Microsoft Office applications (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint).
  • Commitment to MSF’s Principles: Volunteers must align with MSF’s principles, which include operating independently of political, military, or religious agendas, observing neutrality, and providing impartial care based on need. MSF-USA actively promotes diversity and considers qualified applicants without regard to age, race, color, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or veteran status.
  • Commitment to Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity: MSF places a strong emphasis on practicing equity, inclusion, and respect for diversity as core principles linked to its success in delivering care.
  • Language Skills: French language skills are highly desirable, particularly for programs in Francophone countries. Competency in spoken French is more important than fluency. Skills in other languages, such as Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian, are also considered assets.

Keep tabs on your region or country-specific arm of MSF for updates, or contact them directly for more information.

Application and Recruitment Process of Doctors Without Borders


Volunteers and participants from the MSF Pool will be called upon to serve in necessary areas

The process to apply can be complex and long. Here are a few points to note about the application process for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières:

  • MSF does not accept applications for specific programs or emergency contexts but encourages applicants to join the general pool of international mobile staff.
  • About 90% of MSF staff are locally hired, working in MSF assistance programs or offices globally. About 10% are Internationally Mobile Staff, including specialists and senior managers hired on fixed-term contracts.
  • MSF recruits professionals from various fields, so even if you don’t have medical experience, you may find yourself eligible to work as an HR coordinator or as a health promoter.
  • MSF expects candidates to be flexible about where they will work to meet program needs. Special skills, languages, and restrictions are considered in each placement.

According to the MSF Website, it takes around four to six months from the submission of an application to the eventual addition to their pool of field staff. Here’s a guide on what to expect:

  • Find out which MSF office to apply from: Depending on your country of residence or nationality, a specific country or region-based MSF office will be processing your application. You can find out which one by choosing your country here.
  • Complete the Application: Submit an online application. The application form typically includes sections for personal information, professional background, language skills, and motivation for volunteering.
  • Applications are thoroughly screened, and suitable candidates undergo interviews and reference checks.
  • Shortlisted candidates attend Welcome Days before being included in the active pool of international mobile staff.
  • Successful applicants to Internationally Mobile positions are then entered into a “pool” of available specialists before matching them to a specific position in a country of intervention, based on their skills, experience, and background.

Tips for a Successful Application to Doctors Without Borders


Make sure you have all the bases covered to give your application a boost

Joining Doctors Without Borders is highly competitive, and the organization receives a significant number of applications. Here are some tips to enhance your chances of a successful application:

  1. Highlight Relevant Experience: Emphasize your professional experience and expertise, especially in emergency or trauma care. Tailor your application to showcase how your skills align with the specific requirements
  2. Showcase Language Proficiency: highlights your proficiency in languages commonly spoken in regions where Doctors Without Borders operates,
  3. Demonstrate Adaptability: Emphasize your ability to adapt to diverse and challenging environments with previous volunteer experiences
  4. Express Commitment to Humanitarian Principles: Clearly articulate your commitment to humanitarian principles, including impartiality, neutrality, and the provision of medical care based on need.

Alternatives to Doctors Without Borders


There are many ways to make a difference as a medical volunteer around the world

While Doctors Without Borders is a highly respected organization, other reputable alternatives exist for individuals interested in medical volunteering. These alternatives are great for those who cannot commit for a minimum of 9 months, those who do not have the stringent requirements, or those who want to get started on medical volunteering rather than wait a few months for acceptance. These alternatives have more flexibility to experience medical volunteering. Below are a few reputable organizations with established medical volunteer programs abroad.


Embark on impactful journeys with IVHQ’s diverse programs in several countries. Contribute to UN Sustainable Development Goal #3, fostering global health and well-being while gaining enriching experiences and cultural immersion. Join IVHQ for meaningful volunteer opportunities worldwide.

medical volunteer abroad

Explore new countries while contributing as a medical volunteer with IVHQ

  • Medical Volunteering in Arusha, Tanzania: In this project, volunteers support healthcare access for low-income communities by shadowing local professionals and participating in medical outreach. Suited for qualified professionals and third-year medical or nursing students, the program includes paramedics, EMTs, and CNAs.
  • Health Education Volunteer Program in Ubud, Indonesia: Volunteers empower local communities through health education, teaching basic health skills in schools, and running campaigns if qualified. The program is designed for those interested in health and teaching hygiene, requiring fluent English proficiency, and is open to individuals aged 16 and above. The impact focuses on the significance of early health education for lifelong well-being.
  • Medical Campaign in San Jose, Costa Rica: Tailored for various medical specialties and experience levels, volunteers offer basic health services while experiencing Costa Rica’s environment. Suited for pre-medical, pre-nursing, medical, and nursing students, as well as qualified professionals, the program is for ages 18 and above, lasting 1 week. The impact centers on treating, educating, and providing health services to communities.
  • Healthcare Volunteer Program in Buenos Aires, Argentina: Volunteers participate in healthcare projects, gaining experience and observing clinical practice. The program involves shadowing and assisting local medical professionals in central Buenos Aires clinics. Suited for those with intermediate Spanish skills, and for pre-medical, nursing, and medical students. The aim is to increase healthcare access and improve the well-being of local communities.
  • Medical Volunteer Campaign in Antigua, Guatemala: Volunteers assist in delivering basic health services, treatment, and education across diverse communities, contributing to enhanced healthcare access in Antigua’s neighborhoods. Suited for groups aged 18 and above, including pre-med, pre-nursing, nursing, and medical students to qualified professionals, the program focuses on treating, educating, and providing healthcare in local communities.


GoEco offers a diverse range of Medical and Healthcare volunteer programs globally, providing opportunities for both medical professionals and those without prior experience. These programs cater to different interests and backgrounds, allowing volunteers to make a significant impact while gaining valuable experience and cultural exposure.

medical volunteers

The difference you can make as a medical volunteer is instrumental in helping people.

  • Health and Medical Care in San Jose, Costa Rica: Help provide healthcare or medical care for those in need. Tailored for health science, nursing, pre-med students, and licensed medical professionals or third/fourth-year medical students, the program includes placements in hospitals, clinics, or elder homes, with tasks ranging from companionship to vital signs monitoring.
  • Medical and Nursing Program in Galle, Sri Lanka: Welcoming pre-med, medical, and nursing students, this program offers access to Sri Lanka’s diverse wards and units for valuable experience. Highlights include observation-based learning, rotations in hospitals, and engagement in patient care. Placement options include Teaching Hospital Karapitiya, Government Ayurveda Institute, and community projects. Volunteers can expect a unique blend of professional development and cultural immersion in this tropical setting.
  • Health and Medical Care in Cuzco, Peru: This program welcomes students of all science-related majors for placements in hospitals, clinics, elder homes, or related institutions. Volunteers engage in patient care, clinic work, and positive cultural exchange with host families. Medical professionals and students in their third or fourth year can expect hands-on tasks, while healthcare volunteers focus on companionship, medication distribution, and workshops. Activities vary based on experience, training, and language skills.
  • Healthcare and Community Outreach in Livingstone, Zambia: This program in Livingstone, Zambia, offers healthcare and medical placements, allowing students of science-related majors to gain real-world experience abroad. The schedule involves clinic assistance, home-based care for bedridden patients, HIV education, and elderly home support.

Maximo Nivel


Gain real-world experience and enhance your CV to prepare you for your future in your medical career

Medical & Healthcare Programs in Costa Rica, Peru, and Guatemala

Maximo Nivel provides impactful Medical and Healthcare volunteer programs in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru, offering international volunteers the chance to contribute to hospitals, clinics, and assisted living facilities. Participants engage in diverse healthcare initiatives, including week-long medical campaigns, and vaccination programs, and gain insights into the healthcare systems of these countries.

Volunteers must be aged 18 and above with varying academic and professional backgrounds, and collaborate with local professionals, bringing essential skills and dedication to improve patient care.

The programs, spanning from 1 to 52 weeks, cater to both licensed medical professionals and those in healthcare training, promoting a positive impact on vulnerable populations and enhancing participants’ cultural understanding.

Projects Abroad

Projects Abroad offers invaluable hands-on clinical experience in hospitals and clinics globally. These programs cater to various skill levels, providing a competitive edge in the medical field. Projects Abroad ensures ethical practices, prioritizing safety and impactful community contributions, making it an ideal choice for those seeking meaningful medical internships abroad.

Volunteer Forever - Nursing Volunteer Abroad Projects

Expand your skills and your network by volunteering in healthcare abroad!

  • Midwifery Internship in Arusha, Tanzania: Gain practical midwifery experience in the maternity ward of a Tanzanian hospital, shadowing doctors, supporting expectant mothers, and providing postnatal care. This transformative program allows interns, including medical students and professionals, to contribute to community health through medical outreaches while immersing themselves in the vibrant Tanzanian culture. Enhance your skills, boost your CV, and make a lasting impact on women’s healthcare in a developing country.
  • Medicine Internship in Guadalajara, Mexico: Immerse yourself in practical medical experience by shadowing doctors and nurses in Mexican hospitals, participating in outreach programs, and gaining exposure to diverse departments like gynecology, pediatrics, and surgery. Ideal for medical students and pre-college students seeking hands-on work, this internship offers insights into healthcare challenges in developing countries. From observing daily routines to engaging in community outreaches, this program enhances your medical knowledge and contributes to addressing healthcare disparities while providing valuable skills for future healthcare professionals.
  • Public Health Internship in Akuapem Hills, Ghana: Engage in hands-on public health initiatives in Ghana, addressing healthcare challenges in disadvantaged communities. As an intern, you’ll contribute to vital medical treatments on community outreaches, assist in child welfare clinics, and raise awareness about key healthcare issues through presentations at local schools and community centers. This internship is open to individuals interested in community health, providing a valuable experience for those pursuing careers in healthcare and medical students seeking practical exposure.
  • Physical Therapy Internship in Sri Lanka: Whether you’re a pre-university student exploring a career in physical therapy, a current student seeking practical experience, or a recent graduate aiming to enhance your resume, this internship offers valuable observational opportunities. With a focus on shadowing trained physical therapists in hospitals, assisting in the rehabilitation of special-needs children, and potential involvement in training local staff or exploring traditional Ayurveda medicine practices, this program fosters cross-cultural exchange and contributes to improving access to healthcare in Sri Lanka.

  • Nursing Internship in Nanyuki, Kenya: Suitable for prospective nursing students or recent graduates, this program provides a unique opportunity to shadow doctors, rotate through different hospital departments, and learn the nuances of diagnosis and patient treatment. Your role will be primarily observational, but with enthusiasm and interest, you may gradually take on more responsibilities under supervision. Engage in community outreach, conduct basic health checks, attend workshops to enhance your skills, enhance your resume, and contribute to improving healthcare access for communities in need.

African Impact

Elevate your medical skills and make a meaningful impact with African Impact’s Healthcare and Medical Volunteer Programs in Africa. As a medical volunteer, contribute to improved healthcare access, raise awareness about health issues, and gain practical experience while working alongside professionals and fellow global volunteers. Explore the natural beauty of Africa and engage in life-changing public health volunteer work, leaving a lasting positive effect on communities in need.


Get to know the African continent while contributing meaningfully with African Impact

  • Hospice Volunteer Project in Cape Town: The Cape Town Hospice Volunteer Project aims to strengthen South Africa’s public healthcare system, particularly in addressing the challenges faced by the underfunded public sector. Volunteers play a crucial role in providing respite care for children and adults with chronic illnesses, offering basic medical aid, and participating in health education initiatives. By supporting local healthcare facilities and filling staffing gaps, volunteers contribute to the restoration of patients’ physical, mental, and emotional well-being while fostering a positive impact on community health.

  • Medical Volunteering Project in Limuru, Kenya: This Medical Volunteering Project addresses the challenges faced by the local healthcare system in an area dealing with inadequate infrastructure and limited resources. Volunteers play a crucial role in providing support to nurses and doctors at overcrowded facilities. Additionally, volunteers engage in community-based home care, offering medical outreach to rural areas, and contribute to health education workshops to raise awareness and empower communities.

  • Public Health & Community Volunteer Project in Livingstone, Zambia: Limited medical resources and restricted healthcare access pose challenges for rural communities in Zambia. Whether you’re a pre-med student, healthcare professional, or simply passionate about making a difference, this program offers valuable healthcare experience. Engage in clinical support, home-based care, health talks, and HIV education workshops, contributing to improved well-being and awareness in traditional rural villages.

Involvement Volunteers International (IVI)

Designed for various backgrounds and skill levels, these programs with Involvement Volunteers International (IVI) focus on delivering vital healthcare to regions with limited access. Whether you’re a medical or nursing student, or professional, or possess a passion for healthcare, IVI provides opportunities for observation and hands-on experience. Choose IVI for impactful, affordable, and flexible volunteer opportunities, where every contribution counts toward lasting positive change.

medical volunteers with stethoscopes pose for a picture with local Fijian women

Contribute with your medical expertise in Fiji!

  • Medical Internships in Fiji: Engage in a meaningful Medical Internship in Fiji and contribute to communities facing healthcare challenges. With approximately 34% of the population living below the poverty line and limited access to healthcare, your skills as a qualified doctor, nurse, physio, paramedic, or related field can make a significant impact. Volunteer in under-resourced hospitals, shadow local medical professionals, assist with medical procedures, conduct health checks, and educate children and adults on first aid, diet, and exercise. Support documents are required for qualification verification.
  • Rural Healthcare in Palawan, Philippines: This initiative aims to address challenges faced by rural communities, including poverty, malnutrition, and limited access to healthcare. As a medical professional or student, you’ll have the opportunity to volunteer in local health clinics, educate the community on nutrition and exercise, shadow doctors and nurses, and assist with health checks. Qualified doctors, nurses, physios, paramedics, and students with a passion for healthcare are encouraged to join. Special requirements, documentation, and additional equipment details are provided for a meaningful and safe community program.
  • Physiotherapy Internship in Nepal: This internship allows you to shadow local physiotherapists, observe and gain insights into the Nepalese healthcare system, and broaden your perspective on overseas medical care and treatments. The program includes an introduction to the local culture, and customs, and an academic session to prepare you for the work environment. Hands-on involvement is possible based on your experience level, making this internship a valuable and eye-opening experience. Qualified medical professionals or students are encouraged to apply, bringing their skills to support underserved communities.
  • Hospital Internship in Tanzania: This program allows you to work at a local hospital, supporting medical professionals and assisting the community. As a volunteer, you will shadow local doctors and nurses, gain practical experience in international medical care, and provide assistance to those with limited access to resources. Your role is crucial in monitoring and observing patients while contributing to the hospital’s various wards, including Obstetrics/Gynaecology, Paediatrics, Maternity, Radiology, Dentistry, and more. The program is suitable for medical students or professionals with a background in medicine, nursing, pharmacy, or related fields.
  • Medical Volunteering in Peru: Contribute to underfunded and understaffed hospitals, clinics, and healthcare facilities. As a medical volunteer, you will have the opportunity to work alongside and shadow doctors and nurses, assisting with general check-ups, blood pressure readings, vital signs, and patient records. Depending on your experience, you may also engage in tasks such as wound cleaning, injections, physical examinations, and more. Spanish language skills are advantageous but not mandatory.

Volunteering Solutions (VolSol)

With 16 years of experience, Volunteering Solutions’ Medical Volunteer Abroad Programs operate in countries like the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Tanzania, South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Peru, and Costa Rica. Participants contribute to diverse medical areas, gaining hands-on experience under professional supervision. With flexible start dates and durations, these programs provide a unique opportunity to serve, learn, and receive a Certificate of Completion, elevating your career prospects.


Bring vital care to inaccessible places and help rural communities

  • Medical Volunteer Program in Cambodia: The Medical Volunteer Program in Cambodia offers an enriching opportunity for medical and nursing students or professionals to contribute to the healthcare of underserved communities in Phnom Penh. Participants will work in local clinics and hospitals, shadowing professionals, and engaging in tasks such as wound suturing, vaccinations, and critical surgeries. This program, spanning a minimum of 2 weeks, provides a unique blend of hands-on medical experience and cultural immersion in the vibrant city.
  • Pre-Medical & Nursing Healthcare Volunteer Program Sri Lanka: The Pre-Medical & Nursing Healthcare Volunteer Program in Sri Lanka provides a unique opportunity for participants without a formal medical background to gain exposure to the healthcare sector. Located in Galle, Sri Lanka, volunteers work in public and private hospitals, participating in diverse medical activities such as wound suturing, vaccinations, and community health projects. This program is ideal for those interested in exploring the medical field, fostering cultural understanding, and contributing to the well-being of underserved communities in Sri Lanka.
  • Public Health Nutrition Volunteer in the Philippines: This program offers a unique opportunity for individuals interested in community health. Volunteers contribute to addressing malnutrition among infants in low-income communities through public awareness initiatives and a supplementary feeding program. Responsibilities include organizing workshops, recording children’s progress, and educating communities on the benefits of balanced diets. This program is suitable for students of public health and nutrition or anyone passionate about community health.
  • Medical Volunteer Program in Uganda: This Program in Uganda offers a unique opportunity for medical interns, students, and professionals to work in local hospitals and clinics. Participants provide essential medical support in departments such as Radiology, Dental, Pediatric, Surgery, Maternity, and OPD, contributing to the healthcare system of Uganda. With placements in a healthcare center with over 140 beds, volunteers engage in hands-on work experiences, assisting in wound dressing, vital sign measurements, patient activities, and more. Additionally, weekly health workshops, camps, and awareness programs are organized, allowing participants to make a meaningful impact on both patients and local communities.
  • Medical Volunteer Program in Tanzania: Volunteers work in clinics, dispensaries, and hospitals in and around Arusha, gaining international hands-on experience. Suited for final/third-year medical/nursing students, the program includes placements in various departments such as Gynecology, Operation Theater, General Medicine, Physiotherapy, First Aid, Laboratory, Research, and X-ray facilities. Dental volunteering is also available upon request. Participants are required to provide relevant documents and qualifications, and pre-med, medical, nursing students, CNAs, midwifery, and dental students are encouraged to join. The tasks involve shadowing professionals, assisting in medical procedures, and actively participating in daily hospital procedures and patient checkups.

Start Your Medical Volunteering!


Your contributions as a medical volunteer can change lives

Volunteering with Doctors Without Borders or a similar organization is a profound and impactful way to contribute to global health efforts. By providing essential medical care in crisis-affected regions, volunteers play a crucial role in saving lives and alleviating suffering.

Before beginning a volunteering journey, thoroughly research the organization, understand the requirements, and assess your readiness for the challenges that may arise. Whether you choose to volunteer with Doctors Without Borders or explore alternatives, your dedication to humanitarian principles and commitment to making a difference can have a lasting and positive impact on communities in need.

Remember that your contribution, no matter how small, can make a significant difference in the lives of those facing health challenges around the world. Thank you for considering the path of medical volunteering and for being a force of positive change.