Yesterday, ASH News Daily featured Angkor Hospital for Children, one of the Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO) hematology program sites at which ASH members can volunteer to teach and train local health-care professionals. Today, ASH News Daily examines what makes an effective volunteer.
Becoming an HVO hematology volunteer is a great way to share your medical knowledge with others, learn new languages, sample life in other cultures, and study different beliefs concerning health, illness, and disability. “We work hard at HVO to provide volunteers with background information on the site selected for an assignment so they arrive well prepared and ready to train their counterparts,” said HVO Executive Director Nancy Kelly, MHS. “We have been in this business long enough to know that, despite efforts to make sure everything is set, there are going to be unexpected changes. The ideal volunteer is flexible, adaptable, creative, and can move to plan B as needed. Upon return from an assignment, many volunteers comment that the assignment reminded them of why they went into medicine in the first place.”
A core set of personal traits is essential to being a successful volunteer: flexibility and adaptability, openness, innovation, integrity, and, most of all, patience. Of course, the best volunteers are those who not only possess these innate qualities, but also are well prepared for their assignments. Being an effective volunteer requires lots of preparation and is, in fact, hard work in addition to being a wonderful and exciting opportunity to travel and see the world. Hematology volunteers are provided with extensive orientation materials and communicate regularly with staff, site program directors, on-site coordinators, and previous volunteers. Despite these excellent communication tools, unforeseen circumstances and situations routinely arise in the developing-country setting. Volunteers must be patient and ready to adapt to whatever realities present themselves — days without electricity, sudden shortages of vital medical supplies, cultural differences, and scheduling difficulties.
Successful and satisfied volunteers have a strong sense of what they hope to give and what they hope to gain from the experience. A culturally sensitive volunteer provides health-care education and services that are respectful of and responsive to the cultural and linguistic needs of his/her patients and colleagues.
A range of psychological and practical barriers can stymie the volunteer experience. According to Ms. Kelly, there is no right time to volunteer, but there are wrong times. Being a good volunteer entails a certain degree of stability, so opting for an assignment following any kind of personal or professional crisis is never a good idea. Finding the “right time” is a challenge for many health-care professionals who must often balance career and family with an exciting opportunity abroad.
Volunteers must also be able to commit to funding their experience. Although the costs of volunteering are tax-deductible, volunteers must be able to pay for international travel and living expenses, which average $2,500 per trip.
Laboratory scientists and/or clinicians in either adult or pediatric hematology are suitable for the two sites in Kampala, Uganda, and Siem Reap, Cambodia. Volunteers at HVO hematology sites must be Active, International, or Emeritus members of ASH and board-certified/eligible. Associate members who have completed two years of their fellowship may be considered at the discretion of the site director.
The benefits of an outstanding volunteer experience are potentially transforming, resulting in a renewed sense of professional purpose, as well as a deeply enriching personal experience that is savored long into the future. If you’re ready to take the plunge and learn more about how to make a difference in the lives of others by sharing your skills with other health-care providers, plan to attend the session, “The Volunteer Experience: Sharing Your Hematology Expertise Globally,” tonight from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. at the Westin San Francisco, Market Street. This dynamic session will allow you the opportunity to meet and speak with past volunteers, program directors, and HVO recruitment staff to learn more about volunteering through HVO.
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