By Ruben A. Mesa, MD
Judging the local science fair, working at a soup kitchen, leading a scouting troop, and participating in local medical clinics are all just a handful of ways that members of ASH volunteer their time and expertise in local communities. The opportunity for a more far-reaching, and globally oriented, volunteer opportunity is the subject of a special session tonight: “The Volunteer Experience: Sharing Your Hematology Expertise Globally” from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. in the Stanford Room of the Westin San Francisco, Market Street.
Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO) is a volunteer organization that focuses on improving global health by providing teaching and training in low-resource settings. Opportunities in Kampala, Uganda and Siem Reap, Cambodia, currently exist for both laboratory scientists and clinicians who are ASH members. Tonight’s session will give you the opportunity to meet and speak with past volunteers, program directors, and HVO recruitment staff to learn more about volunteering through HVO.
Nancy Kelly, MHS, executive director of HVO, describes participation in volunteer programs as both enlightening and fulfilling: “Many volunteers comment after returning that the experience reminded them of why they went into medicine in the first place.” She goes on to describe that being a volunteer includes committing a significant amount of time, paying for travel and living expenses, and most importantly, preparing adequately for time spent abroad. It is essential to have a thorough understanding of the culture and community you are entering to benefit yourself, as well as the faculty and patients being treated at the site.
Ms. Kelly also asserts that “a core set of personal traits are essential to being a successful volunteer: flexibility and adaptability, openness, innovation, integrity, and, most of all, patience.” It is for this reason, she cautions, that while a volunteer experience is extremely rewarding, it is not for everyone. In fact, she has observed that volunteers who are at peace with both their professional and personal lives not only greatly enjoy the experience, but also have the most to offer the local providers they seek to educate.
The session promises to be a dynamic discussion about exciting travel, the need for highly trained hematologists and scientists to improve global hematology health care, and an opportunity to investigate whether a volunteer assignment with HVO is right for you.
Dr. Mesa indicated no relevant conflicts of interest.
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