Voluntourism and global health: preparing dental students for responsible engagement in international programs

J Dent Educ. 2013 Oct;77(10):1252-7.


Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) estimates that nearly 25 percent of its predoctoral dental students have expressed an interest in global health, including traveling abroad to conduct research or to volunteer in a project. This article addresses the important differences between "voluntourism" (combined volunteering and tourism) and responsible engagement in global health, reports on a pilot workshop at HSDM to promote responsible volunteering, and provides a recommendation on how to address these issues in the context of a dental curriculum. The pilot Workshop for Ethical Volunteering in Global Health was designed as a discussion-based, interactive program that included lectures, small-group activities, and personal reflection. The aim of the workshop was to provide students with a systematic approach to ethical volunteering, critically reflecting on their motivation and attitudes related to conventional models of volunteering and facilitating alignment with principles of global health. Students participated in an anonymous written survey at the start and the close of the workshop. After the workshop, survey results demonstrated a significant increase in understanding the value of applying principles of global health when volunteering in order to avoid negative and unintended impacts on communities. All of the students reported that the workshop influenced the way they view volunteering in dentistry.

Keywords: dental volunteering; global health curriculum; global oral health; global volunteering.

MeSH terms

  • Boston
  • Curriculum
  • Education, Dental / methods*
  • Global Health / education*
  • Humans
  • Internationality*
  • Oral Health / education*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Schools, Dental
  • Volunteers / education*