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Best Practices for Engaging in Global Health/Medical Volunteer Experiences

Best Practices for Engaging in Global Health/Medical Volunteer Experiences

The Office of Risk Management provides this document for use by departments and student organizations as they plan trips or activities that involve volunteers providing medical or health related services.  These guidelines are intended to help equip students to be successful in both their current travel activities, but also in preparation for future professional endeavors.  These best practices are applicable to volunteers engaged in these activities within the U.S. or abroad, and in the provision of medical or health related services to either humans or animals.

Purdue University sponsored groups should:

  • Partner only with established organizations that have a reputable track record concerning global health volunteers.
  • Communicate with partner organizations to ensure that all are aware that participants are STUDENTS, not medical professionals.  This communication should include the educational level of the students, thus defining the level of experience and competence that the partner organization can expect from the volunteers.
  • Understand prior to the trip the duties that participants will be asked to perform while engaged in the volunteer experience.
  • Encourage all participants to review the following articles related to international healthcare experiences.
    Forum on Education Abroad. 2013. Guidelines for Undergraduate Health Related Programs Abroad.
    Association of American Medical Colleges. 2011. Guidelines for Premedical and Medical Students Providing Patient Care During Clinical Experiences Abroad
    American Dental Education Association. 2010. Guidelines for Predental Students Providing Patient Care During Clinical Experiences Abroad
  • Require that all participants complete the University of Minnesota online Global Ambassadors for Patient Safety (GAPS) Training Module and provide a copy of their certificate of completion. The module is open access and available to the public.
  • Conduct pre-departure orientation sessions required for all participants that includes discussions on the ethical issues identified in the foregoing articles and online training.
  • Always be mindful and respectful of the local culture.  This includes local customs and norms, as well as local laws regarding certification or licensure.
  • When working within the medical setting, ensure that all student participants are clearly identified as STUDENTS, not medical professionals.  Participants should avoid presenting in scrubs or other clothing that could result in misunderstanding of their role or level of expertise.  Name tags with first name and the word “STUDENT VOLUNTEER” in the local language are encouraged.
  • Make patients aware of participant’s student status and ask patient permission for student presence during clinical encounters.
  • Participants should never perform work beyond the scope of their education. NEVER ENGAGE IN activities overseas that you are not trained for or not allowed to engage in within the U.S.

Maintaining medical ethics are important at home and abroad.  Speak up and say “I’m sorry, but I cannot perform that task” if you are asked to work beyond the limits of your education, certification, or licensure.