Advice for volunteering abroad?

I’m a 31 year-old non-traditional planning to submit my med school application this spring. I’m wondering what to do with the next year of my life after I apply. I would like to do some volunteer trips abroad related to medicine. However, every program I look at seems intended for young college students or recent graduates. Has anyone ever found programs tailored to non-traditional pre-meds? Or just programs where I’d be with people my age?

I would get over your ageism and just apply.

You are going to have to be in school with students younger than you, and quite possibly, much older than you … might as well get used to it.

Not all medical volunteer work is geared toward the young. There are groups that do international health work that attract medical professionals and lay workers and volunteers of every age level. Often, these are short-term, recurring medical missions, in which an NGO periodically returns to the fixed clinics. It sounds, however, like you are interested in doing a longer-term project, but even these can take “older” workers.

At age 35, I made my first international medical mission to Mexico and Guatemala with a small NGO. More than a decade later, I’m still at it, doing up to 13 trips per year. Our volunteers range in age from their teens to their 80’s.

I should have added that I agree with Adoc2be: Don’t worry about your age, just apply and see what happens. There are opportunities out there for people of every age.

I’m interviewing Gap Medics next week about their programs. Any specific questions you think would be good for older nontrads?

Is this program (Gap Medics) the one that arranges physician shadowing experiences?

  • datsa Said:
Is this program (Gap Medics) the one that arranges physician shadowing experiences?

Yes - check out their website

Another option – rather than volunteer abroad now (or in addition to doing that), do a clerkship abroad during medical school. That’s my plan. Many medical schools encourage this, and where I will be going this fall most students go abroad at some point during their four years there. During medical school, you will be able to do more (from a medical standpoint) than you can now. Just a thought. Best wishes to you!

Getting global health experience is wonderful but there are lots of health disparities in our country, too. Be sure you’re exposed to those in addition to seeing healthcare abroad. Unfortunately, many of the volunteer opportunities abroad require payment for premeds to participate. Most truly volunteer opportunities (for which you don’t have to pay to participate) are offered by faith-based organizations in under-resourced countries (Haiti, for example). They range from short to long stints. I’ve had former students spend up to a year in foreign countries doing various health-related opportunities and these have been formative experiences.