Never before has it been this easy for physicians to spend two to three weeks, or even three to four months, volunteering their services abroad. As of this writing, for example, AMA-endorsed Health Volunteers Overseas has assignments of two to four weeks for orthopedists in Ethiopia and Uganda, 4-week assignments for emergency medicine physicians in Bhutan, and a 10-day assignment for an oncologist in Vietnam (to list a few).
As short-term opportunities increase, so does the workforce, driven by medical students, residents and young professionals who seek to address global health disparities in access to health care resources. "Interest in global health ... has never been higher," says Dr. Brett Nelson, a member of the global health faculty at Harvard Medical School. Responding to this demand, "almost half [of U.S. medical schools] have established initiatives, institutes, centers, or offices for global health," according to John A. Crump of the Global Health Institute at Duke University. In addition, a growing number of residencies are now integrating global health training into their curricula. This often includes time blocks spent abroad working in resource-limited settings.
Once in practice, however, nurturing physicians' interest in global health can prove problematic. Most practice lifestyles have built-in constraints such as on-call obligations and other contractual commitments that leave little time for even short stints overseas. This is not a concern for the locum tenens physician. By combining locum tenens work with short-term volunteering abroad, they have the freedom and flexibility to chart a unique and rewarding career path while maintaining a reliable source of income.
(References: Journal of Graduate Medical Education, 2012 September, pp. 301-306. Health Volunteers Overseas website: www.hvousa.org)