The Ethics of Medical Volunteerism

Med Clin North Am. 2016 Mar;100(2):237-46. doi: 10.1016/j.mcna.2015.09.001.


Responding to disparities in health, thousands of health care providers volunteer annually for short-term medical service trips (MSTs) to serve communities in need as a result of environmental, geographic, historical, or sociopolitical factors. Although well intentioned, short-term MSTs have the potential to benefit and harm those involved, including participants and communities being served. The contexts, resource and time limitations, and language and cultural barriers present ethical challenges. There have been increasing requests for standardized global guidelines, transparency, and open review of MSTs and their outcomes. Principles of mission, partnership, preparation, reflection, support, sustainability, and evaluation inform and equip those engaging in medical volunteerism.

Keywords: Ethics; Medical mission; Medical volunteerism.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communication Barriers
  • Cultural Competency
  • Health Care Rationing
  • Humans
  • Medical Missions / ethics*
  • Mentors
  • Motivation
  • Social Support
  • Vulnerable Populations