Volunteer Abroad

The 11 Best Medical Volunteer Programs in 2020

Andrea Ella Palmer

Andrea Ella Palmer is a freelance writer from Baltimore, Maryland. She earned a Master of Public Health from University College Dublin in 2017. Andrea has lived and worked in the US, Ireland, and Spain. She is currently based in Madrid.

Medical volunteering is a great way to give back, whether you are a recent graduate from the healthcare field, current student, or aspiring nurse or doctor interested in learning more about how to get started. Volunteer programs overseas within the health & medicine sector generally focus on underserved and/or rural populations, who don’t have easy access to healthcare. Assisting local staff will not only help the cause of improved health for all but also can teach you valuable skills such as teamwork and how to work efficiently with limited resources.

The Go Overseas team has handpicked the best 10 international medical volunteer programs for 2020 to make your search easier. Although program requirements vary based on education, skills, and length, you’re sure to find something that fits your interests and talents. No matter your destination, it’s important to approach these volunteer positions with compassion and an open mind. You’re on your way to making a difference and meeting some great people!

If you want to read more about each of these programs, click above or learn more about each one below.

How did we pick these programs?

In choosing the best programs to be included in this article, we took into account two main factors: the review scores of each program and the number of reviews that program had received.

For all programs on Go Overseas, we ask reviewers to rate six key variables that reflect the core components of any experience. These vary depending on the type of program, but include items such as Housing, Support, Fun, Value, Safety, and an Overall score. We average these scores in order to find a numerical representation of the typical experience, and we use this number to compare all of the many programs in a certain category.

From there, our goal is to choose those programs which are truly the best: they have more and better reviews than the average for similar programs and are verified by enough reviews for us to feel confident giving our stamp of approval. Lastly, we base these decisions on our own industry knowledge. We want to make sure we're recommending programs that are vetted both by you, the users, and us, the experts, so that we feel confident the programs included are the best of the best!

The programs listed below are not ranked in any particular order; instead, they reflect a breadth of excellent program options.

#1. Volunteer in Costa Rica with Maximo Nivel

All of Maximo Nivel’s programs come highly rated on Go Overseas, and their medical volunteering program in Costa Rica is no exception. Participants felt safe and supported and commented overwhelmingly on how impactful their stay was.

Universal healthcare is available to Costa Ricans, but staffing and resource shortages coupled with limited access to facilities make providing care to all citizens difficult. Volunteering helps fill these gaps in service. Maximo Nivel programs cater to healthcare students and offer more complex placements for those further into their studies. The amount of direct patient care you may be engaged in depends entirely on your education and experience.

Maximo Nivel recommends a minimum placement of two weeks to get the most out of your time overseas. Here are some of the glowing reviews from past participants:

  • “In San Jose, I volunteered with a healthcare project and had a very humbling and eye-opening experience. I loved working with the patients and I felt supported by the Maximo Nivel staff.” – Lauren
  • “I was able to build meaningful relationships with the residents, nurses, and made a number of friends at Maximo.” – John
  • “Working with the nurses and doctors was very interesting and seeing the way that they execute different procedures. Even with the language barrier between my English and Spanish I was able to bond with my patients and the nurses.” – Nadia

Here's a snapshot of Maximo Nivel's review performance:

9.63 Rating
based on 176 reviews
  • Impact 9.3
  • Support 9.7
  • Fun 9.5
  • Value 9
  • Safety 9.4

#2. Volunteer Programs in Bali with IVHQ

IVHQ offers highly rated volunteer programs in the beautiful city of Bali. Touting a 96% overall rating, participants praised the healthy food, safety, and continuous support. Placements range from 1 to 12 weeks, and the program fee includes housing, meals, airport pick-up, cultural orientation, and 24/7 support.

Volunteers interested in health education will have the freedom to design their own lessons on hygiene, nutrition, and general health for local elementary school students. Credentialed doctors are welcomed to plan and implement health campaigns and local clinics. Due to limited resources, volunteers wishing to engage in patient care must bring their own equipment.

Past volunteers had this to say about their experience in Bali:

  • “The staff were very nice with us, it was super safe in Bali and we really felt the impact we had while teaching the children. They were very receptive and needed the information we gave them.” – Jafar
  • “I came to Bali for the healthcare education project, hoping that a group of children would learn something new from me. In fact, they were the ones who had re-taught me the meaning of a very powerful gift: gratitude.” – Victoria
  • “Teaching the kids was an experience I will never forget. They are so eager to learn.” – Matracea

Here's a snapshot of Rustic Pathways review performance:

9.62 Rating
based on 154 reviews
  • Impact 9.2
  • Support 9.7
  • Fun 9.7
  • Value 9.5
  • Safety 9.7

#3. Summer High School Programs in Thailand with Rustic Pathways

Geared toward younger volunteers, Rustic Pathways runs programs for students under 18 wishing to see the world while making a difference. Third on our list, parents and participants alike rated the program's safety highly.

For those interested in the healthcare field, Rustic Pathways offers an 11-day placement focusing on rural emergency medicine and local health screening. At the end of the program, participants will leave with their Wilderness First Aid and CPR certifications. Happily returned volunteers recommend this hands-on experience:

  • “I was able to volunteer in a small village in Thailand where I screened for diabetes and hypertension. Along with great leaders and friends made, this trip further my desire to work in the medical field.” – Samantha
  • “The program was wonderful! We had the chance to get certified in CPR and WFA all while having fun and volunteering.” – Jinan
  • “One of my favorite projects with the village health, we gave diabetes test to locals. I felt that our group made a big impact! Not only that but it had a great impact on me.” – Hayley

Here's a snapshot of Rustic Pathways review performance:

9.79 Rating
based on 103 reviews
  • Impact 9.5
  • Support 9.5
  • Fun 9.4
  • Value 9.3
  • Safety 9.6

#4. Education, Health & Community Volunteer Programs in Ecuador

If you’re looking for a long-term volunteer experience, Manna Project International offers programs focusing on health promotion that run between 3-13 months. Volunteers will have the opportunity to teach local residents about healthy eating, food safety, and proper nutrition, all while receiving mentorship and ongoing training.

MPI’s program fee covers everything from housing and meals to professional development. Participants have commented on the impact this experience has made not only on their lives but in their careers as well:

  • “It was a great opportunity to do meaningful and hands-on work that will build your resume, give you a chance to travel, and, most importantly, help those in need. The perspective and experience I gained from Manna helped me get into medical school, and I think about my years there every day.” – Erica
  • “I appreciated every day the fun, flexibility, and impact of working with MPI, but its only years later that I realize how much of my professional leadership experience and career success I owe to the experience.” – Greg
  • “I appreciated the autonomy Manna gave their program directors with the various programs that allowed growth and challenges that they can use after their experience in-country.” – Jessica

Here's a snapshot of Manna Project International's review performance:

9.81 Rating
based on 16 reviews
  • Impact 9.6
  • Support 9.8
  • Fun 10
  • Value 9.7
  • Safety 9.7

#5. Affordable Volunteer Programs in Tanzania with IVHQ

IVHQ also offers quality medical volunteer programs in Tanzania, ranging between 1 to 16 weeks. Highly rated for their fun, safety, and support, IVHQ placements combine a meaningful volunteer experience with enough free time to experience all the things Tanzania has to offer.

If you are passionate about working with underserved communities, joining the medical team will give you first-hand insight into the challenges facing poor and rural areas. Depending on your qualifications, you can volunteer within a general practice or specialty areas and you may even have the opportunity to join weekly health campaigns. This project is open to licensed doctors and nurses as well as certified nursing assistants, EMTs, and paramedics holding the appropriate credentials.

Volunteers have had profoundly positive experiences with IVHQ’s Tanzania program:

  • “I spent three weeks volunteering in Tanzania at Imara, a non-profit foundation that supports anyone affected by HIV and AIDS. The trip will be something I cherish for the rest of my life.” – Taylor
  • “I was part of the HIV/AIDS program for 9 weeks and it was the most eye-opening experience. It was so very emotional but worth every second.” – Katey
  • “My two months in Tanzania were two of the best months of my life. I had the most amazing time and met some fantastic people. I learned about a completely different culture and pushed out of my comfort zone. – Natalia

Here's a snapshot of International Volunteer HQ's review performance:

9.7 Rating
based on 56 reviews
  • Impact 9.2
  • Support 9.5
  • Fun 9.5
  • Value 9.4
  • Safety 9.5

#6. Volunteer in Medicine & Healthcare with Aldeas de Paz

All fifteen reviewers gave Aldeas de Paz in the Dominican Republic top marks. Boasting a 100% rating, participants enjoyed the practical experience and close-knit communities in which they worked.

Pre-medicine/nursing students are welcome to join Aldeas de Paz’s projects in addition to qualified healthcare professionals. Your level of involvement with patient care will depend on your experience and credentials. Volunteers can expect to be placed in a hospital or local clinic and will be exposed to a variety of different specialties. Basic Spanish skills are needed; more advanced language skills will open up opportunities for direct patient interaction.

Medical volunteers had this to say about their time with Aldeas de Paz:

  • “I would say that this year in the Dominican Republic helped me become more open-minded, more mature, able to integrate myself in another culture and able to live without having access to everything I am used to.” – Zoe
  • “The advantage of being a volunteer with Aldeas de Paz is that you can profit from numerous contacts which could help you for instance if you want to initiate a new project. Moreover, our coordinators in Samaná were always available for our problems and very supportive.” – Lennart
  • “The whole personnel of the clinic were like a family to me. They cared about me every single day. It was a good feeling.” – Uemi

Here's a snapshot of Fundación Aldeas de Paz's review performance:

10 Rating
based on 13 reviews
  • Impact 10
  • Support 10
  • Fun 10
  • Value 10
  • Safety 10

#7. Volunteer & Explore 16+ cities in North India with The Tarzan Way

The Tarzan Way’s North India program isn’t your typical volunteer experience. Participants travel to 16+ cities over a 6-week period while they volunteer in a variety of different fields, including healthcare. This program is tailored to each participant’s interests to ensure their time in India is both meaningful and fun.

Full support, accommodation, and meals are provided as you trek, zip-line, raft, and camp your way around India’s diverse north, all while making a difference in the local communities. With ten reviews, The Tarzan Way has an overall 99% score with 10/10 for fun, value, and support.

The Tarzan Way participants can attest to the uniqueness of this experience:

  • “Overall it was such a different and amazing experience and totally different from what I have seen other companies provide.” – Anam
  • “The 6 weeks I spend in India were some of the best days of my life.” – Elisa
  • “I had the chance of learning so much about myself and discover that I could do much more than I thought I could; it made me feel unstoppable!” – Carolina

Here's a snapshot of The Tarzan Way's review performance:

9.78 Rating
based on 9 reviews
  • Impact 9.8
  • Support 10
  • Fun 10
  • Value 9.9
  • Safety 9.9

#8. Pre-Medical & Volunteer Programs with EcuaExperience

Another top healthcare volunteering program, EcuaExperience has over 200 happy participants giving it an overall 97% rating. The program fee includes accommodation, breakfast, and activities and ranks highly across the board for all variables.

Participants have the opportunity to join one of several medical programs: pre-med, pre-dentistry, physiotherapy, or biomedical. As a student volunteer, you’ll shadow experienced physicians in a variety of settings depending on your chosen specialty. On the weekends, take advantage of excursions like trekking, horseback riding, and surfing.

Aspiring healthcare workers enjoyed the real-world knowledge they gained with EcuaExperience:

  • “The med rotations were really cool and such a great learning experience. Working alongside the community for the Help component of the trip was truly a fulfilling experience. The evenings we spent playing and dancing in the village were honestly unforgettable.” – Pat
  • “The 18-day Ecuador trip had changed my perspective on life, I learned a lot as a pre-med student and as a person. I 100% recommend anyone who is adventurous and wants a glimpse of what being a medical professional looks like.” – Brittany
  • “The program leaders were some of the kindest, down to earth people, and the locals of Ecuador were incredibly welcoming and made me feel very at home.” – Pavi

Here's a snapshot of EcuaExperience's review performance:

9.72 Rating
based on 231 reviews
  • Impact 9.7
  • Support 9.7
  • Fun 9.2
  • Value 9.7
  • Safety 9.7

#9. Volunteer Placements in Uganda with Beacon of Hope

Although it has fewer reviews than other programs, Beacon of Hope Uganda maintains a 100% overall rating and two perfect 10s for value and fun. An extremely affordable program, BoHU provides accommodation, all meals, and full support while undertaking a volunteer project.

Dentistry, medical, and nursing students and professionals alike can volunteer from between one week to six months in the community clinic. Hands-on experience will enrich your skill-set and broaden your world view. Participants rave about the BoHU experience:

  • “It’s honestly hard to describe accurately in words my time at the hospital in Mukono – it was an incredible learning experience.” – Natalie
  • Absolutely loved everything about the organization and would recommend it to everyone, regardless of where you're from or what you do for a living, they are affordable and very grassroots.” – Herbert
  • “Please if you want to volunteer I promise you that this is the most unique and genuine experience you can have, you will make a difference and you will also have fun.” – Jim

Here's a snapshot of Beacon of Hope's review performance:

10 Rating
based on 9 reviews
  • Impact 9.9
  • Support 9.9
  • Fun 10
  • Value 10
  • Safety 9.6

#10. Global Dental Relief: Public Health Dentistry with Kids in Kenya

Global Dental Relief isn’t just for dental students or trained professionals. If you have an interest in public health dentistry and making an impact on the health of children, this program is for you! This two-week program can be undertaken with or without a safari trip.

Dental students and trained professionals will have the opportunity to work directly with patients, while non-dental volunteers help with administrative tasks and may assist with procedures as needed. Program participants rank all aspects of this volunteer experience consistently high:

  • “The experience not only filled my heart but brought to light the impact that I as a non-dental person can have in these kids' lives.” – Patti
  • “It was such an amazing experience for me, and really solidified my resolve for wanting to enter this profession.” – Maya
  • “I was deeply moved by the students we served. The need in Kenya is great and we were able to serve hundreds of students.” – Chuck

Here's a snapshot of Global Dental Relief's review performance:

10 Rating
based on 6 reviews
  • Impact 9.5
  • Support 10
  • Fun 10
  • Value 9.8
  • Safety 9.8

#11. Women Empowerment Program with Volunteer India

Last on our list, but not least is Volunteering with India’s Women Empowerment Program. This flexible program’s primary focus is supporting, teaching, and training women from the local community. There are many volunteer activities available, but those interested in healthcare can get involved with women’s health awareness projects.

Ten reviewers ranked safety highest, along with impact, and the program has a 98% overall rating, making an excellent choice for those hoping to experience India and get to know its inspirational women. Past participants recommend their time volunteering due to its positive impact:

  • “I will definitely come back, next year, to the women, the teacher and the family that hosted me, because they all became my second family.” – Laura
  • “It was a great way for me to gain meaningful experiences for the future, an amazing opportunity to meet new people and to see the world from a new perspective.” – Cecilia
  • “This experience gave us a small insight into the local culture and the opportunity to interact, share, and positively impact the lives of the women we met.” – Karen

Here's a snapshot of Volunteering with India's review performance:

9.82 Rating
based on 11 reviews
  • Impact 9.8
  • Support 9.7
  • Fun 9.5
  • Value 9.7
  • Safety 9.9

Healthcare volunteering overseas will not only enhance your skills in the medical field but will change your world view and give you the opportunity to touch the lives of others. The above organizations have tried and true track records and have received our seal of approval. Give one of these a try and do something meaningful in 2020!