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Volunteering in International Surgery

Volunteering in International Surgery

There is a long history of Canadian Surgeons volunteering their time and skills abroad, but only recently has this type of work gained institutional recognition and support within the medical establishment. Clinical, teaching and research missions in developing countries can be one of the most rewarding aspects of medical practice and can make a genuine contribution to both the well-being of patients there and to strengthening fragile medical facilities. Nearly everyone who has been on such missions returns to report how much they learned and how the experience has given them a fresh perspective on their practice at home.

The CAGS International Surgery Committee has programs in Uganda and Guyana which need a steady stream of volunteers.

Surgeons interested in international work are encouraged to join the Canadian Network for International Surgery (CNIS) attend the annual Bethune Round Table on International Surgery hosted by the University of Toronto, Office of International Surgery.

**American College of Surgeons – Operation Giving Back**   has an online resource to help surgeons find volunteer activities.
The Canadian Federation of Medical Students has an excellent resource for Pre-departure Training for students undertaking international electives.
The International Medical Volunteers Association:
CanadaAid – Canadian Physicians Overseas Program organized by Dr. Keith Martin MP
Society of International Humanitarian Surgeons
Surgical Training in Africa Network (RCSE)

Health Partners International – (take medicines with you)PLEASE NOTE THE RED CROSS AND MSF DO NOT OFFER POSITIONS FOR RESIDENTS
Canadian Red Cross

The Canadian Red Cross supplies surgical delegates to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva which runs Red Cross international emergency medical relief operations in cooperation with the National Society in the affected country. ICRC is the oldest international humanitarian organization in the world, founded in 1864 and has won four Nobel Peace Prizes for its work. Getting involved with the Red Cross is time consuming as they expect surgical delegates to have significant, relevant experience, to have attended a week-long basic training course held several times a year and to have attended their War Surgery Seminar, held annually outside Geneva. That said, the ICRC is a highly competent and experienced organization and the War Surgery seminar is without equal.
Interested surgeons should visit the International Careers page of the Red Cross: 
Or contact the Red Cross’s Overseas Personnel / Human Resources department at Canadian Red Cross National Office
Médecins sans Frontières Canada

“What I’ve experienced is that I can’t know the future. I can’t know if anything that I do will change what happens tomorrow. I can’t know with certainty, but what I do know is if I do nothing, nothing will change.”

“Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was established in 1971 by a small group of French doctors who had worked together during the Nigerian Civil War. Upon their return, they were determined to find a way to respond rapidly and effectively to public health emergencies, with complete independence from political, economic and religious influences.

Today, MSF is one of the world’s leading independent international medical relief organizations, working in more than 70 countries worldwide and with operational centres and national offices in 19 countries.

Our mandate concerns emergency relief, and the principles we honour while carrying out our work are contained in the MSF Charter. We launch our operations in areas where there is no medical infrastructure or where the existing one cannot withstand the pressure to which it is subjected. In most cases, relief programs change to rehabilitation projects that may run for several years after the most urgent needs have been met.

For more than 40 years, we have been providing medical help to people caught in many kinds of catastrophes, including armed conflicts, natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes, epidemics of disease and malnutrition crises. All these situations call for rapid response with specialized medical and logistical help. We are renowned for our quick response and efficient, effective work in the toughest emergencies. Beyond the drama of the acute crisis, we also intervene in times that call for a less urgent type of action, for instance, in chronic refugees situations, areas of chronic instability, and in periods following a conflict or disaster.” (from MSF Canada HomePage)

MSF Canada is now recruiting Canadian General Surgeons for a variety of assignments.  See:  MSF Canada Surgery


National Office
720 Spadina Avenue, Suite 402
Toronto, ON M5S 2T9
Toll Free: 1-800-982-7903
Tel: 416-964-0619 / 416-963-8707
Quebec Office
342 Sherbrooke Est. Suite 2
Montreal, PQ H2X 1E6
Tel: 514-845-5621 / 514-845-3707
Western Office
45 Dunlevy Ave. Suite 230
Vancouver, BC V6A 3A3
Tel: 604-732-0673 / 604-732-0671


Faith-Based Organizations
An interesting option for Canadian Surgeons who want to serve in developing countries are the multitude of faith-based organizations that are involved in health care. Commonly these missionary organizations were the first to establish hospitals in these countries, often focusing on the under-serviced rural areas and consequently have a long history of providing excellent health care in some very difficult areas. These hospitals are quite accustomed to accommodating foreign physicians and are appreciative of the help they receive. Although many of the missionary organizations prefer to recruit from their own faith community, most are quite happy to receive physicians who may not be actively practicing their faith as long as there is a basic agreement of lifestyle. In this case, it is important that there is a common understanding and agreement between the organization and the volunteer. It is often easiest arranged through an overseas colleague who can help make the connection with the hospital. Within these arrangements, many surgeons have found a short-term work placement at a missionary hospital an extremely rewarding experience.


The Canadian Network for International Surgery
(CNIS) supports members’ individual projects. They have developed a scoring system for member’s projects which looks at the potential benefits, the degree of support from northern and southern partners, the timeframe for the project and the resources available . CNIS welcomes all Canadian surgeons as members and those with a specific project in mind may approach CNIS for advice and support.
If you are visiting a clinic or hospital in the developing world, you can carry with you a pre-packaged Physician Travel Pack box of medicines by making a donation to HPIC.  See the website for more information and application.
Finally, the CAGS International Surgery Committee on International Surgery is happy to provide advice and contacts to Canadian surgeons interested in volunteering abroad.