Private Volunteer Medical Organizations: Assembling a Broad-Based Team of Volunteers

After AMTA’s first visit to Africa in 1993, the magnitude of the problems encountered prompted the organization to begin recruiting a very broad-based pool of volunteers. It was very clear that any attempt to deal with the issues of delivery of healthcare in these small village clinics and remote government-run district hospitals would require the services of every skill-set necessary to operate a medium-sized 150-bed hospital in America. Therefore efforts were made to recruit hospital administrators, systems analysts, information systems specialists, “jack-of-all-trade” repair people who could repair electrical, mechanical and plumbing problems with local resources, biomedical engineers, electrical engineers, pharmacists and school teachers in addition to doctors and nurses in all specialties. Recruitment continues on an ongoing basis with AMTA booths at scientific meetings, such as the National Medical Association, and by word of mouth from experienced volunteers. Volunteers are selected to travel to Africa based upon the goals and objectives of the mission as established by the host country and individual skill-sets of the volunteer pool. Every effort is made to assign duties long before the team leaves the States in order to facilitate procurement of medications, equipment and replacement parts, educational materials/brochures and to allow the team members sufficient time to do background research on the countries to be visited in order to enhance cultural sensitivity and assure the overall success of the mission.

The composition of a team of volunteers is vital to the success of the mission, and the long-term success of the organization, in turn, will determine whether volunteers will continue to sacrifice valuable vacation and family time to travel to Africa. We use five criteria to help select volunteers for AMTA: skill, adaptability, personality, availability and variety with a special category for students.
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  • Skill: First and foremost we want the most skilled individual in their field—individuals who have demonstrated mastery of their trade. We depend on the active members of AMTA to identify potential volunteers and introduce them to the organization.
  • Adaptability: Volunteers traveling to SSA must be able to tolerate change as a matter of course. Individuals who are easily frustrated because the transportation is late, the meetings have been canceled and supplies have not yet arrived may not be effective team members.
  • Personality: During the mission, the team will spend 20+ hours on a plane together, work 16-18hour days, share all meals and malaria medication while being either too hot or too cold.
  • Availability: All the skills, adaptability and personality are for naught if the volunteer does not have the flexibility in their in their home/work schedules to spend a minimum of two weeks for the trip.
  • Variety: AMTA teams are composed of a variety of nonmedical individuals, including hospital administrators, biomedical engineers, accountants, hospital janitorial staff, computer specialists, attorneys, and the all-around handy person who can fix anything with available materials. These individuals can help the local authorities maintain a safe and efficient facility long after the team has left by insuring a steady supply of running water and electricity, by establishing programs for staff/patient safety and by leaving templates for more effective resource management.
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  • Student Interns: One of AMTA’s goals is to expose young people to volunteerism and specifically the needs of SSA. Therefore, we try to include a “student intern” when funding permits. These can be college, medical students or residents.

Category: Main

Tags: medical infrastructure, medical supplies, monitoring outcomes, volunteer organizations

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