Promoting volunteerism in global health: lessons from a medical mission in northern Mexico

J Community Health. 2013 Apr;38(2):374-84. doi: 10.1007/s10900-012-9627-z.


The challenges of meeting global health care needs in communities throughout the developing world are becoming increasingly complex. Understanding what motivates volunteers is important for organizations that seek to harness and develop long-term volunteers in order to meet the need for global health care services. Here we report a case study of a successful volunteer clinic that has provided medical, dental and surgical services to under-served residents of northern Mexico for more than 20 years. Our objective was to understand what promotes sustained volunteerism. Thirty semi-structured interviews were conducted with students, residents, nurses, dentists, oral surgeons and community volunteers, in addition to four full days of participant observation. We analysed volunteers' experiences with a real-life global medical mission and offer recommendations. Motivating factors included psychological and emotional rewards, career-related benefits, opportunities for interpersonal interaction, the opportunity to serve disadvantaged communities and personal relevance of the mission. We demonstrate the paramount importance of volunteer-patient interaction, having a dedicated facilitator to recruit and pave the way for first-time volunteers and the value of using multiple recruitment strategies. Most important, we show that organizations must focus on facilitating first-time volunteers' experiences, particularly by ensuring that they are given specific roles and responsibilities, one of the best predictors of volunteer satisfaction and sustained volunteerism.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Global Health*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Missions*
  • Mexico
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation*
  • Organizational Case Studies
  • Qualitative Research
  • Volunteers*