Radiology Community Service -International Health Volunteers from American College of Radiology Bulletin (December 2002)
International Health Volunteers
There are many reasons why doctors donate their time to combat disease abroad. Some of them include wanting to help the less fortunate, a desire to reach out beyond their current medical practices and an opportunity to teach.
Despite these compelling reasons, only a small percentage of physicians volunteer. A significant factor has been the dearth of information to help them evaluate volunteer organizations and find opportunities that best fit their volunteer objectives and their time constraints.
Radiologist Jorge Gamba, M.D., who practices at Baptist Medical Center in Jacksonville, Fla., took note of this problem and decided to do something about it. He decided there should be an Internet-based repository for physicians and other medical experts who want to volunteer for short-term medical service projects, both in the United States and in other countries.
This year, with the help of the Duval County Medical Society, Gamba launched the International Health Volunteers Organization (IHVO), an independent, not-for-profit endeavor that operates a Web site (www.internationalhealthvolunteers.org) to help potential medical volunteers and organizations looking for such volunteers to find each other.
The site lists physicians who are interested in volunteering and indicates what their specialties are, when they are available and how to contact them. It also identifies more than 100 organizations around the world doing humanitarian work so that doctors, nurses and other health workers can contact them.
I wanted a site where credible organizations, with proven track records in humanitarian missions, could be listed for volunteers to work with, says Gamba. I am hoping that the public can use this site to become volunteers or at least to get useful information about these organizations to help them make informed decisions about volunteering.
In 1991, Gamba learned about services doctors and nurses from Baptist Medical Center provided in Paraguay and went there to help. Since then, he has traveled to several other countries to train people for radiology work and has found it extremely rewarding.
On my most recent mission to Haiti, we brought a portable ultrasound machine with us, Gamba recalls. We taught the physicians and nurses there how to use it, so when we left they were capable of working with ultrasound. We would like to have more radiologists volunteer to go back there and continue training at that hospital so the medical staff can become truly proficient.
It is the hope of Gamba and those who helped launch IHVO that the site will help more physicians find humanitarian missions for helping underprivileged countries. If people can volunteer on their time schedule, go where they want to go and where they can teach what they know, and if they can find out how to do this within minutes instead of weeks or days, then our goal has been met, Gamba says.
IHVO hopes to improve its Web site over the next few months to make it easier to navigate. It would like to link the project calendar to the project page of the organization, add a section for physicians to critique and review organizations and put up a bulletin board so physicians can post information on their specialties for others to see.
Currently, IHVO learns about volunteer opportunities mainly through word-of-mouth. While many organizations meet the criteria for IHVO, they are usually known only to locals in their areas. Gamba hopes that as more people learn about the IHVO Web site, they will submit the names of their local organizations to IHVO so physicians everywhere can become aware of them.
Why do we volunteer? Gamba asks. To get back to the reason we entered the field of medicineto serve and aid the ill regardless of financial remuneration.
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