Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

How To Do It: Work in a developing country

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: (Published 08 July 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:113
  1. Paul Johnstone, registrar in public healtha
  1. aInternational Health Exchange, London WC2E 9NA
  • Accepted 12 June 1995

Some health professionals seek the exciting challenge of working for a time in a developing country. Uncertainties about taking this step, however, may have to be addressed. It is important to understand your reasons for wanting to work overseas--it is ill advised, for example, to go abroad just to escape job dissatisfaction in Britain. Skills needed for international aid work nowadays centre on low tech community based programmes, and enabling, facilitating, and managing skills are more important than clinical skills. Further training may be necessary. Careful planning both for the work abroad and for a return to work in Britain is advisable; full health insurance cover, for example, is important. Although working in a developing country is largely unrecognised as an asset to a professional career in Britain, attitudes are slowly changing. A spell overseas can be very relevant to a career plan and the NHS.

Working in a developing country can be an exciting experience, personally rewarding, and in some professional specialties, recognised as a positive career step. There is much interest among doctors, nurses, and managers in this country about humanitarian work abroad, but few take up the challenge. There may be many reasons not to go: personal uncertainty; unknown risks to health and safety; indecision about where to go, who to go with, and what to do; mortgage and family commitments; pension and national insurance; job security on return; lack of support from professional colleagues and NHS employers; and the long term risk and benefits to careers. Still, some people want a new and exciting challenge and decide for a spell abroad. This article addresses some of these uncertainties and is a guide to further information for those thinking about working in a developing country.

Why work abroad?

A good starting point is to think about your own reasons for …

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