Medical, Dental, Nursing Mission Trips Abroad | Global Health Internship
Faith-based and non faith-based mission trips are an excellent way to do good work and, if you’re traveling as part of a group, strengthen the bond within your cohort. Medical mission trips also have all of the great benefits of medical volunteer abroad trips.
Medical, Dental, and Nursing Mission Trips Abroad
Even in the twenty-first century, health care comes at such a premium in so many parts of the world. Unfortunately, the people who do not usually have access to healthcare are those who are voiceless to change the state of their lives: children, the elderly, and the underprivileged poor. Therefore, your mission working as a healthcare volunteer has the possibility of accomplishing an incredible amount of good. Whether you are interested in a medical, dental, nursing, or veterinary overseas mission trip, we discuss plenty of options to help improve the health and well-being of underserved communities abroad.
How We Chose These Programs
When looking for programs that could make a good match for what you might look for in your medical mission trip, we looked chose programs with one or more of the following qualifications (a) describing themselves as faith-based, (b) having experience and personnel to plan international medical volunteerism trips and (c) having great reviews by our volunteers through our volunteer reviews platform on Volunteer Forever. Although some programs may have only one of these qualifications, we believe that any of these choices would be an excellent way for you to begin your medical mission trip. It’s worth mentioning that although not all of the organizations listed are religiously affiliated or specialize in mission trips, there are plenty of organizations that still would make for a perfect service opportunity for your medical mission trip group.
What To Expect on a Medical Mission Trip
As you begin planning, it’s important to realize that medical mission trips can be highly individualized. Whether you’re going on a trip alone or with a group, most volunteer abroad placement organizations are more than willing to arrange your trip so that the work that you do aligns perfectly with your skill level, training, and licensure. Although many medical mission trips do not require prior experience, it is a good idea to make sure that the work that you’ll be doing is not above your comfort or qualification level. In all healthcare work, there is a level of risk to the volunteer and to the patient whenever medical services are provided. As a volunteer, to attempt to do more than you are trained to do is putting both yourself and the patient at risk. Be sure to ask questions about the exact nature of the project so that you are completely clear about your responsibilities as a potentially untrained volunteer and about the medical volunteer abroad organization’s expectations of you before you go. Even if you are an untrained volunteer interested in volunteering within the healthcare field, there are plenty of vital roles within a clinic that do not require volunteers to put anyone at risk.
Medical mission trips can vary greatly depending on the location, project, and special needs of the community that you are serving. You could be trekking medical supplies to rural villages in Panama or working as part of an urban clinic that gives basic lessons on preventative healthcare to newly migrated families. You could also be working in a temporary field hospital while providing medical care to communities that do not often have the opportunity to see regular medical care for anything but the most grievous injuries. No matter what you do, you are sure to find it worthwhile and life-changing, both for you and the people you serve.
Planning a Medical Mission Trip
Although planning a medical mission trip may seem overwhelming at first, there are many ways to cut down on the stress associated with planning any major international volunteer abroad experience. There are also a number of ways to cut costs so that, combined with your crowdfunding efforts on Volunteer Forever, you could end up taking your entire medical mission trip abroad completed funded by donations.
Here are a few ways to save money that you might consider as you begin planning your medical mission trip. Planning ahead is always best if you’re looking to save money as it gives you more time to research your options and reach out to your family and friends so that they can help you meet your fundraising goal. Giving yourself more time on the front end also allows you time to do research on expenses such as the prices of flights to your worksite, the cost of living in the country, and various program fees itself before you have to make a decision. You also need to be aware of costs that may come up unexpectedly, like special visa fees or customs charges, especially if you are bringing a lot of supplies into the country. Budgeting for these costs may overwhelm you a little bit in the beginning, but will help you save money in the long run.
Furthermore, traveling as part of a group is also a great way to save a money while volunteering abroad. If you are interested in traveling as part of a group, but haven’t found anyone to travel with, you may also want to consider searching a directory associated with your faith or region in order to connect with other volunteers. There are likely to be plenty of volunteers who are interested in traveling as a group and taking advantage of group discounts and the camaraderie of like-minded volunteers. Placement organizations may also be able to connect you with other volunteers who are interested in working on a similar project or in the same location as most volunteer abroad organizations have volunteers work through teams anyway. Of course, traveling as part of a group isn’t just great because it saves money, but also because the people that you volunteer with may become one of the most memorable parts of your journey. Many volunteers speak highly of their medical volunteer team and still keep in touch with them even years after their project finishes.
Expenses Associated With a Medical Mission Trip
Because of the nature of the work, medical mission trips can sometimes be more expensive than many other volunteer abroad positions. Depending on the program, volunteers should expect to pay for program costs, costs of travel to and from the work site, visa fees, traveler’s insurance, and all vaccines and physicals that the volunteer will need to be cleared for travel within the country. Costs such as lodging and transportation to and from the airport and to and from the work site vary by organization. Many organizations provide lodging as either included within the program fees or for an additional fee. Many programs might also ask volunteers to bring a small donation that goes directly to the clinic or work site where the volunteer is employed. This donation could be monetary or in the form of small necessary medical supplies such as gauze, bandages, or care kits. Although many volunteers feel conflicted about covering the costs of a volunteer abroad program fee and making a donation to the individual site, we find that most volunteers who return from their trips only wish that had brought more to donate by the time they leave.
As with all mission or volunteer abroad trips, try not to think of the program fee as an added cost, but a donation to a cause that you seriously care about. Although we recommend checking into the financial operations of the program that you choose, most medical mission organizations use program fees to support the small projects where you’ll be volunteering. So, you aren’t just donating your time to a wonderful cause, but your money too!
Although the costs of volunteering abroad as part of a medical mission trip may seem daunting when you begin planning your trip, remember that crowdfunding with organizations such as Volunteer Forever make volunteering abroad a possibility for all budgets and trip costs. Volunteers traveling with a group such as a youth group should also look into programs that offer group discounts or special lodging packages that can make working on a medical mission trip even more affordable.
Global Vision International (GVI)
Project Name: Global Vision International (GVI)
Types of programs offered: General health care, veterinary health care
Where they work: Fiji, Thailand, Nepal, India, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand
How long: Programs vary from two to twelve weeks and can be catered to the the volunteer’s availability.
Who can join: All volunteers are welcome, especially those interested in medicine or community health development. Volunteers under 18 are urged to apply for special projects designed for 15-17 year olds.
About the Program: GVI coordinates over 150 volunteers projects around the world and has many different health care based projects. As GVI seeks to link local missions with international volunteers, volunteers are usually placed within established local projects, NGOs, or licensed clinics. GVI is able to connect volunteers to many different specialized projects such as specialties as physical therapy, preventative medicine, HIV/AIDS care and prevention, and working with the mentally disabled. Although each project is unique, GVI’s medical opportunities frequently are tailored to serve low-income communities underserved and frequently overlooked populations within usually affluent areas.
Almost all GVI volunteers stay with host families in local homestays, although GVI is willing to work with volunteers who would like to arrange a different type of housing option. GVI is also able to coordinate housing for groups volunteering together, such as on a medical mission trip. Although GVI mostly focuses on coordinating the actual volunteer abroad work for the volunteer, optional side trips are available in many locations so that volunteers have the opportunity interact on a personal level with their local community while also getting a chance to venture out into the incredible natural beauty of the placements. Volunteers should expect to work mostly during the weekdays, with the weekends to themselves to plan alternate excursions or trips. Schedules are usually finalized well ahead of time, so groups planning to take weekend trips have plenty of time to make decisions about how to spend extra time.
Project Details: Although GVI has healthcare projects in many different countries, mission trip groups might be especially interested in GVI’s healthcare project in Thailand. Volunteers work in the province of Phang Nga serving mentally disabled children and adults leading rehabilitative exercises and assisting in other areas such as self-care education. Since Thailand does not allocate a large amount of resources towards the care of the mentally disabled, volunteers help provide vitally important services to a population that is critically underserved. Volunteers lead activities that provide stimulation and learning for patients living in and around the work site.
What Volunteers Have to Say About GVI: “This really was a trip of a life time. My 6 week stay in South Africa was the first time I had done anything like this and certainly the first time I had been abroad on my own. I had a great time and experienced so much whilst out in the bush. The sights and sounds of the Africa bush are something you can never forget, nearly 3 years on and the memories are so vivid it’s like I was there last week. The staff both in the UK and in the field were excellent- very supportive, enthusiastic and clearly loved their jobs. In fact I have never met such passionate people and they really made me determined to finish my degree and follow in their footsteps. Overall it was an amazing trip, worth every penny, and I would 100% do it all over again! -” Amy Smith
Project Name: Volunteering Solutions (VolSol)
How Long: Two weeks and longer
Who Can Join: All volunteers must be at least 18 years old and must be students in the field associated with the project.
About the Program: VolSol has excellent medical internship programs in the fields of dentistry, medicine, and journalism. Founded in 2006, VolSol seeks to place specialized volunteers with international partners to produce positive change. VolSol maintains strong, culturally responsive relationships with all of its partners across the globe and is thankful to include a large base of alumni who are happy to unofficially support current or prospective volunteers. Volunteering Solutions offers some of the most affordable medical internships in the world with two week internships starting at just $425.
Project Details: Potential interns interested in how a hospital runs in one of the largest medical destinations on the planet will be interested in interning in one of Bangkok’s largest and most state-of-the-art hospitals. Participants in this internship have the opportunity to shadow a Thai doctor as he or she moves through the routines of a normal day. Interns are also allowed to spend additional time performing supplemental tasks in centers or clinics within the hospital. Dental students may be interested in VolSol’s Dental Internship Program in Cusco, Peru. This program affords volunteers the opportunity to gain hands-on experience within the field of oral hygiene while assisting dental professionals. Volunteers should expect to experience both the typical dental clinic experience and to occasionally visit schools and kindergartens as dental professionals seek to raise the public’s awareness of oral hygiene.
What Volunteers Have to Say About Volunteering Solutions: "My experience with Volunteering Solutions in Cape Town was life changing. After doing some research, I found VolSol and immediately knew this was the company for me to volunteer abroad. I signed up for the Children Social Welfare project and was placed in the Gingerbread House. The Volunteering Solution coordinators set up an orientation day which was very thorough and informative. We went over all expectations for the project and general safety tips for Cape Town. I knew exactly what to expect on the first day of my project, as well as tips to stay safe in Cape Town. Kevin ran the orientation and it was extremely fun and interactive! The project itself was great. The staff at the Gingerbread House was absolutely amazing and truly appreciated our presence in their classrooms. We were given a daily time table for the children and based our lesson plans off of this. We did everything from teaching animals, shapes, and basic arithmetic to playing fun games and exploring outside. The children were some of the happiest and friendliest that I have ever come across. I was placed in the Observatory hostel, which was in a happening part of Cape Town. This is where most students live, so there were plenty of bars and restaurants. The people of Cape Town are all very friendly, not to mention it is a great party town! Overall, my experience in Cape Town was exceptional. I made friends from all over the world that I still remain in close contact with. I fell in love with each and everyone of the children and they all hold a special place in my heart. It is so true what they say - "I came here to change Cape Town, but Cape Town changed me." Thank you VolSol for the amazing memories!" - Brie McCormack, February 2016
International Service Learning
Project Name: International Service Learning (ISL)
Project Locations: Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Tanzania
How Long: Individual projects last from 9 to 14 days. Length of group projects vary based on the group’s needs.
Who Can Join: All volunteers must be at least 18 years of age and some projects do require a minimum level of experience for volunteers working directly in the healthcare field.
About the Program: ISL provides high-quality volunteer abroad opportunities that give volunteers unique service learning experiences while also helping support the health care systems in developing countries. ISL is great for groups or individuals planning a medical mission trip as all volunteers are grouped into teams that support each other over the course of the volunteer expedition. Thus, mission trip groups can plan a trip in which they are their own team, allowing ISL to tailor their experience to the group’s needs and qualifications. Although all volunteers must be at least 18 years old to participate, there are no language or certification requirements for most projects.
Project Details: ISL has some terrific healthcare trip options including several nursing projects, in which volunteers work on humanitarian projects providing care to developing communities in Mexico and Belize. Another great medical volunteer abroad project coordinated through ISL is Hike for Humanity, in which groups serve as part of trekking teams who are responsible for hiking life-saving medical equipment into rural communities in the densest parts of the jungles of Panama. If you’re traveling as part of a group mission trip, ISL has a special option in which they reserve a team just for your group. Groups are encouraged to contact ISL directly in order to plan for a reserved team trip.
What Volunteers Have to Say: “I know you're seeing the Straight 5 stars and thinking I'm just an easy evaluator, but I assure you I'm not! That's just how great my experience with ISL has been. I recently traveled to Nicaragua as part of an Optometry team that distributed glasses and diagnosed eye problems to the rural areas of Masaya, Nicaragua. Right when I got off the plane, my team leader greeted me as if she had been waiting for me her entire life. I soon found out that the entire ISL staff has the same type of demeanor and liveliness. The people you meet at ISL are simply amazing people. There's a very unique, special bond that forms between people that come together in a foreign country in order to serve the community at large. I signed up on the last possible day for the trip because I wasn't sure if the money I was putting down for the trip was worth it, but I tell you now it is 1000% worth it! I plan on going back to Nicaragua after Optometry School in order to serve the community once again... I guarantee that you will enjoy your experience with ISL! - Brian Chuang
Catholic Volunteer Network
Project Name: Catholic Volunteer Network
Where They Work: CVN has over 112 partner programs in a variety of countries across the globe including Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Australia, Japan, Russia, Spain, Kenya, and Tanzania
How Long: Projects vary from one week to two years depending on the program and position.
Who Can Join: Although many projects require applicants to be at least 21, some projects accept volunteers as young as 18.
About the Program: Established in 1963, the Catholic Volunteer Network coordinates thousands of volunteer opportunities annually with over 200 programs throughout the United States and internationally. Although the Catholic Volunteer Network offers many different types of volunteer programs, they have a variety of opportunities in the medical field, including special urgent opportunities that recruit volunteers on an as-needed basis. Catholic Volunteer Network’s extensive directory categorizes partner organization opportunities so that volunteers are able to search opportunities by cost, type of placement, length of service required, and location.
Project Details: As each program or placement has its own requirements and specialization, volunteers are encouraged to search their database that is updated with real-time volunteer opportunities as they become available. Many volunteer opportunities are coordinated with partner programs that are affiliated with the Catholic Church and directly relate to well-established missions that serve millions across the globe.
Volunteers for Peace
Project Name: Volunteers For Peace
Where they work: Bangladesh, Uganda, Kenya, Indonesia, Ecuador, Nigeria, India, Russia, Nepal, Thailand, and Costa Rica
How long: Minimum project lengths depend on the local organization, but most projects generally take from 2-3 weeks, with some extending up to three months.
Who Can Join: Although the age requirement for most volunteer projects is 18, some more intensive projects may require volunteer to be at least 21.
About the Program: Founded in 1982, Volunteers for Peace prides itself on its high level of volunteer service and on the transparent partnerships that it has with local organizations all over the globe. VFP seeks to help volunteers grow into roles as “citizen diplomats” in which they promote cross-cultural understanding amongst volunteers and communities alike. VFP has plenty of experience coordinating volunteer abroad projects for groups such as medical mission trips and encourages groups to contact them directly. As 80% of VFP’s volunteer abroad programs take place between May and September, which is great for mission groups looking to serve during the summer months. Volunteers should expect to work around six hours per day and have clean but basic living conditions.
Project Details: One of Volunteers For Peace’s many interesting healthcare projects is through their local partnership with the Uganda Pioneers Association assisting with reintegration treatment for survivors or families of survivors of West Nile Virus. Although medical mission trip members could fill a number of roles within the project, volunteers could be involved with counseling survivors of West Nile, educating the community about the lasting effects of West Nile, and assisting oppressed communities by counseling victims of disease, poverty, or domestic violence. This project requires that volunteers be at least 21 years old, although special arrangements can be made with a chaperone.
What Volunteers Have to Say About Volunteers For Peace: “I volunteered through VFP with their partner association "Solidarite Jeunesse " at L'association du Centre de Beaumotte, located in a remote region of France... VFP was very helpful through the entire process and they have tons of projects to choose from depending on your likes and goals. The staff is very helpful and were periodically checking in with how I was doing with the project. I also love that they have projects to fit anyone's budget, you pay $500 for the registration fee and depending on the project you either have to pay out of pocket for your expenses or can make money while volunteering.”- Liz Medrano
International Medical Relief
Project Name: International Medical Relief
Where they work: India, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Philippines, Brazil, Madagascar, Haiti, Kenya, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Armenia, Peru, Thailand, and Malawi
How long: Most projects range from two weeks to one month
Who Can Join: Although IMR plans medical mission trips specifically for licensed medical personnel and medical students, non-medical workers can apply to provide support work to medical projects.
About the Program: By leveraging the work of volunteer professionals around the world, International Medical Relief seeks to provide first-rate healthcare to underserved communities around the world. IMR recruits teams of professionals such as doctors, dentists, nurses, and other medical professionals to operate short-term clinics in areas with limited healthcare resources. International Medical Relief knows that its volunteers will work incredibly hard to bring their expertise where it is most needed and in order to provide as much support as possible, takes care of all logistical planning. IMR makes arrangements for transportation, housing, meals, and all necessary government permits. Clinic supplies and medicine are all provide through donations and partnerships that IMR has with in-country medical networks.
Project Details: IMR has plenty of projects all over the world. Since all of IMR’s projects are strictly medical and IMR has a long history of working with trained professionals, IMR provides excellent support for mid-career health care professionals seeking to use their expertise abroad. As IMR coordinates all necessary licenses, professionals don’t have to worry about making sure that their qualifications transfer internationally. However, all applicants (except for students) must be able to provide current documentation that they are fully licensed. Since IMR has hundreds of placements in dozens of countries, they also offer a wide range of experiences. Professionals interested in taking a medical mission trip with IMR should be prepared to work in environments ranging from basic but efficient field hospitals to state-of-the-art medical centers.
Vida Volunteer Travel
Project Name: VIDA Volunteer Travel
Where They Work: Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua
How long: Around 14 days. Volunteers interested in staying longer can participate on multiple trips at a discounted fee. Individualized trips can also be arranged for groups.
Who Can Join: Programs are open to medical, dental, and veterinary professionals or students in any of those fields. Some programs, such as VIDA’s advanced veterinary program, may require additional experience. Unaccompanied minors under 18 are considered on a case-by-case basis. Academic credit can be arranged for undergraduate and graduate students with an agreement from the student’s university or college.
About the Program: VIDA’s mission is to tackle the widespread inequality in access to medical care through the efforts of passionate, qualified volunteers. VIDA volunteers join a team of qualified local and international medical professionals to provide health care services to those who do not regularly have access to reliable medical care. As VIDA puts a strong emphasis on cultural integration and mutual understanding, volunteers should be willing to fully experience life just like the locals. All volunteers are housed with host families for the duration of their stay so that they are able to explore the culture of their village as a volunteer and as a guest. In all of its projects, VIDA provides 24-hour local support, transportation between sites, all medicine and supplies needed to run a successful mobile clinic, meals during work days, after-hour activities, and all border and custom fees.
Project Details:VIDA operates programs in three different countries: Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. Although all of their programs get great reviews from our volunteers, people interested in a medical mission trip might be especially interested in their medicine project in which volunteers work as part of a mobile clinic team helping impoverished communities in Central America who do not have regular access to medical care. Most mobile clinics take place in community centers such as churches and schools and all medical care must travel with the mobile medical team. Typical services offered to patients include health screenings, education about preventative care, and free medical care for minor illness and injuries. All teams are made up of three volunteers, one physician, and one translator (unless the doctor is bilingual).
What Volunteers Have to Say About VIDA: “I cannot say enough good words about my experiences with VIDA! I participated on two trips with VIDA- one to Costa Rica and Nicaragua and more recently my trip to Guatemala. Both trips were beyond amazing and I learned SO much! VIDA is a perfect opportunity for anyone who is interested in the medical field...The doctors and staff are incredible and are truly dedicated to the volunteers. We weren't deserted after our clinical days- rather most doctors and translators would hang out with us at the hotel, go out to dinner, walk around town etc. which helped the entire group become really close with each other and the staff. To this day, I still keep in contact with staff members from my first VIDA trip two years ago! I also really appreciated how we had non-clinical days dedicated to exploring the culture we were immersed in- something I think is essential to better understand the patient population we were working with. Without hesitation, I would recommend VIDA to anyone interested in healthcare! It clearly benefits the volunteers immensely, and more importantly provides much needed health care to impoverished communities. Thanks VIDA!”- Erica Miller
Ready for Next Steps?
It doesn’t matter whether you’re traveling as part of a medical mission trip group or are off to serve by yourself. Medical mission trips are excellent opportunities to make positive change in the world while also growing stronger in your spirituality and personal mission. Although medical volunteering can often be more stressful, expensive, and intensive than other types of volunteering, we urge you to go for it. The results are more than worth the effort-- if only for all of the lives changed and the opportunity for your own professional and spiritual growth.
So, ready for your next steps? Create your Volunteer Forever account today to begin fundraising for your medical mission trip. Remember-- you’re not just fundraising for yourself, but for all those lives that you have the opportunity to change. Have a Great Adventure!
Brittany Edwardes is a Fulbright Scholar who spent the last year teaching and living in Southeast Asia. Brittany is very passionate about service learning, spending time outdoors, and making her own pasta.
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