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How to Serve the World and See It Too

September 03, 2000|ARTHUR FROMMER

I've long admired the French volunteer group Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) for what it has accomplished in disaster areas and war-ravaged regions. When politics or issues of neutrality stymie the Red Cross or the United Nations, Doctors Without Borders moves in.

The magnanimous group, founded in 1971, calls itself the world's first nonmilitary, nongovernmental medical assistance organization. And last October it was awarded the ultimate humanitarian award: the Nobel Peace Prize.

Doctors Without Borders is a powerful travel option for people working in the health field who have been lucky enough to receive training in Western medicine and now want to give something back to humankind. Although an assignment with the group isn't a casual vacation--it's more like a tour of duty--it offers a worthy international experience that leaves the world a better place.

If you are accepted as one of the 2,000 annual volunteers, expect an experience crossing "ER" with "M*A*S*H." You'll be flown (at no cost to you) to places where your skills are most needed, often near battle zones. Your food, lodging, household items and transport are free or come out of a per diem. The well-funded DWB also furnishes insurance coverage. If your mission is for two months or longer, an additional monthly stipend of about $750 is deposited into your home bank account.

The programs are so popular that about half the group's first-time volunteers elect to go on a second mission.

An assignment with Doctors Without Borders is obviously for the fearless and the hardy. The group's average volunteer is between 25 and 40, although physically fit recent retirees might also want to consider joining.

Participants head into troubled areas in about 80 countries, especially in Africa, to perform vital services. Sometimes it's as grueling as attending to the wounded, and sometimes it's as "easy" as investigating an outbreak of sleeping sickness. Currently, for example, Doctors Without Borders is attending to the famine in Ethiopia.

You'll visit places where few tourists go, but you'll also work long hours with volunteers from all over the planet.

The organization's main need is for general medical practitioners, although there are slots for a variety of other workers, including RNs, nurse practitioners, physician's assistants, nutritionists, midwives, lab technicians, logisticians and water and sanitation experts. Generally, diplomas or licenses and two or three years' experience or residency in a Western medical facility are required.

Assignment minimums range from six weeks to six months; preference is given to those who sign up for longer. In most cases, your family can't come along.

To learn more, visit or telephone (212) 655-3768.

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