Going abroad

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What to consider

doctor with child

The benefits of UK doctors working internationally are immeasurable, with the costs minimal 

With an increasingly diverse patient population in the UK, an ever more integrated global healthcare system, and unprecedented access to people and places around the world, it is more important than ever before that UK doctors are able to access opportunities to gain international experiences.

Volunteering abroad, in developing countries, can be beneficial not just to you and your career, but to your patients, the NHS and the country in which choose to spend time.  


  • What's your motivation?

    The UK government recognises the value of NHS staff taking part in international health projects.

    International Office, HEE

    It's important to consider your motivations for volunteering overseas, the impact you will make, and the needs of the community you will be working in.

    Ask yourself the following questions:

    • What do I want to do?
    • What can I offer?
    • What do I expect to get out of it?
    • What are the needs and expectations of where I want to go to?
    • How long can I go for?
    • What will happen when I come back?
  • Benefits

    Benefits to developing countries

    The UK has a long history of international healthcare initiatives, particularly in developing countries, with UK doctors contributing their knowledge to healthcare systems around the world in various ways. This ongoing commitment and support is vital for developing nations, who continue to improve thanks to doctors willing to share their skills and experience, contributing to the education and training of their developing country colleagues.


    Benefits to the NHS and its patients

    With an increasingly ethnically diverse population, the NHS benefits in both the long and short term, from having staff with cross-cultural experience and awareness. Often voluntary positions give doctors exposure to a diverse spectrum of diseases, experience of working in small, multidisciplinary teams and the opportunity to gain skills in allocating resources, planning and monitoring initiatives, all of which are useful and transferable to working in the NHS.


    Benefits to you and your career

    Volunteering in developing countries provides an opportunity for students, trainees and fully trained doctors to develop non-clinical and leadership skills, to identify career paths for their professional lives and also to contribute to their personal development. Sharing skills with colleagues who work in resource poor health systems with low staff levels, limited equipment and medicines, and other pressures, in turn give the chance to gain skills that assist in adapting to the changing face of the NHS and innovating when it comes to patient care into the future.


  • Have you thought about...?

    • the personal, professional and potential service impact of taking time out of employment and training
    • the impact on your immigration status if you are a non UK or EEA national currently working in the UK, as taking time out of UK now may hamper you coming back to work in the UK afterwards
    • members of the NHS pension scheme may cease to become pensionable during a break in employment
    • give as much notice as you possibly can for approval of your application

     If you are considering a short placement you should consider what impact you can have and identify what you can achieve and contribute in a short period of time.

    Consider how sustainable the impact of your project will be and how best to use your skills and knowledge to address local needs in the timeframe you have available.

  • Inspiration

    Read about Dr. Gerda Pohl's experiences of volunteering in Nepal with PHASE Worldwide.

    Join the conversation on connecting doctors


  • Resources to help you think it through

    Framework for NHS Involvement in International Development

    Published by the Department of Health in 2010 to provide clarity on how NHS organisations and individuals can contribute to capacity building in developing countries. Framework includes:

    • Principles for effective involvement
    • Benefits for the NHS
    • How the NHS can support developing countries
    • Good practice of orgnisations, individuals and employers
    • Supports the International Humanitarian and Health Work: Toolkit to Support Good Practice

     The Framework for NHS Involvement in International Development (NHS and DH, 2010)


    NHS Employers Volunteering Pack

    Published in 2010, provides employers with the practical information they need to help them respond to the Department of Health Strategic Vision for Volunteering. Provides advice on:

    • Recruitment
    • Training and induction
    • Managing volunteers
    • Problem solving

    NHS Employers Volunteering pack: Staff as Volunteers (PDF, 2010)


    The Academy of Medical Royal College International Forum Volunteering Statement

    Released in 2013, the statement expands on the benefits of healthcare professionals engaging in global health and the role that the UK can play in supporting the global health agenda. This statement has been endorsed by the Department of Health, NHS Employers, Medical Royal Colleges and the BMA.

    Academy of Medical Royal College's statement on Volunteering (PDF, 2013)


    Improving Health at Home and Abroad: How overseas volunteering from the NHS benefits the UK and the world

    This 2013 report provides an review of health volunteering abroad, and addresses:

    • The role of NHS staff in advancing health globally through volunteering abroad.
    • The benefits of transfer of skills and knowledge sharing.
    • The opportunities that exist for the UK and developing countries from improving the scale and quality of volunteering programmes

    Improving Health at Home and Abroad (PDF, 2013)