Peace Corps work is far removed from day-to-day life in the United States. For someone students who are planning a career in medicine, the skills and experience Peace Corps volunteers develop can help them grow both professionally and personally.
“The skills volunteers acquire in service – international perspective, development and leadership experience, ability to work with challenging conditions, language skills, and resourcefulness, adaptability and flexibility – will put returned volunteers in front of the pack when they reenter the job market or apply for graduate or medical school,” says Christine Torres, Public Affairs Specialist for Peace Corps’ Chicago regional office.
While understanding health care in the United States is important, Torres points out that understanding global health care and actually having experienced provides a bigger, better picture.
“I have to think that medical schools, hospitals, and physicians networks see this as a real asset,” she says. “It also says a lot about someone’s character and empathy for others.”
Global Health Care Experience
Established in 1961, the Peace Corps sends American volunteers to serve in 76 countries for a two-year commitment (following a three-month training session). Volunteers live, learn, and work with an international community and serve in one of six areas, including public health. It’s a rare hands-on experience for anyone interested in global health care issues.
“In Peace Corps, they are going to see how health care is administered in a developing country and what basic health challenges many people across the world have to experience on a daily basis,” says Torres. “From this, they will understand the stark differences between the developed and developing world. They will also have the opportunity to work with a community in need to help them address some of these health-related challenges, and this is invaluable field experience.”
However, the Peace Corps is not for everyone. So prospective volunteers should seriously consider the pros and cons before embarking on a commitment.
“I think Peace Corps is a natural fit for those in the health field who have a desire to understand it on a global scale, or who want to help address serious concerns like HIV/AIDS, malaria, and malnutrition,” notes Torres. “If someone dreams of working for the World Health Organization one day, or with Rotary International’s Polio Eradication program, or Doctors Without Borders, then Peace Corps is the place to start.”
Solving Global Health Problems
Torres also points out that university graduates are growing up in a culture that encourages service, and many have a strong sense of world issues and increased access to information about service opportunities and international programs.
“The new generation of applicants are smart, well-informed, idealistic, and looking to contribute to solving global problems in a meaningful way,” she says. “Peace Corps volunteers are addressing important global issues like education, food security, environmental conservation, HIV/AIDS and malaria prevention, clean water accessibility, women’s empowerment, and poverty through local economic development. Today’s college graduate wants to play a role in the world at large – they want to be citizens of the world.”
Peace Corps looks for applicants with a solid combination of education, experience and skills, and commitment to service. Strong applicants will also demonstrate leadership and dedication, flexibility and adaptability, and open-mindedness and cultural sensitivity.
All volunteers receive a full packet of info prior to their departure, as well as a staging training in the U.S. and three months of comprehensive training in country that prepares them for service in their program area. Read more about what Peace Corps volunteers do to understand if it’s right for you.
Series on International Health Programs
Next: Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Doctors Without Borders (MSF) attracts both new MDs right out of residency, as well as mid-career and veteran physicians.
International Health Work What draws physicians to pursue international health work and global health care programs.
Why a Career in Global Health? A professor and author advises med students to follow their passion, and there will be a way to engage in global health work.
Global Health Programs For MDs or medical students exploring global health programs, there are a variety of adjustments that must be made.
Peace Corps For many volunteers, Peace Corps offers a glimpse into global health care issues.
Back: Peace Corps and Medical School A fourth-year medical student shares how her Peace Corps service defined her medical school experience.