Experiences and impact of international medical volunteering: a multi-country mixed methods study

BMJ Open. 2021 Mar 23;11(3):e041599. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-041599.


Objective: To assess the experience and impact of medical volunteers who facilitated training workshops for healthcare providers in maternal and newborn emergency care in 13 countries.

Settings: Bangladesh, Ghana, India, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, UK and Zimbabwe.

Participants: Medical volunteers from the UK (n=162) and from low-income and middle-income countries (LMIC) (n=138).

Outcome measures: Expectations, experience, views, personal and professional impact of the experience of volunteering on medical volunteers based in the UK and in LMIC.

Results: UK-based medical volunteers (n=38) were interviewed using focus group discussions (n=12) and key informant interviews (n=26). 262 volunteers (UK-based n=124 (47.3%), and LMIC-based n=138 (52.7%)) responded to the online survey (62% response rate), covering 506 volunteering episodes. UK-based medical volunteers were motivated by altruism, and perceived volunteering as a valuable opportunity to develop their skills in leadership, teaching and communication, skills reported to be transferable to their home workplace. Medical volunteers based in the UK and in LMIC (n=244) reported increased confidence (98%, n=239); improved teamwork (95%, n=232); strengthened leadership skills (90%, n=220); and reported that volunteering had a positive impact for the host country (96%, n=234) and healthcare providers trained (99%, n=241); formed sustainable partnerships (97%, n=237); promoted multidisciplinary team working (98%, n=239); and was a good use of resources (98%, n=239). Medical volunteers based in LMIC reported higher satisfaction scores than those from the UK with regards to impact on personal and professional development.

Conclusion: Healthcare providers from the UK and LMIC are highly motivated to volunteer to increase local healthcare providers' knowledge and skills in low-resource settings. Further research is necessary to understand the experiences of local partners and communities regarding how the impact of international medical volunteering can be mutually beneficial and sustainable with measurable outcomes.

Keywords: medical education & training; obstetrics; qualitative research; quality in health care.