Preparing for Your Medical Volunteer Adventure

Published on Monday 3 October 2016

You have decided where to go and have booked your place on one of our medical projects, now the nerves really start to kick in! On the one hand you’re excited for the adventure of a lifetime, travelling to a destination you’ve never visited before, and meeting new friends. However, the prospect of visiting a new country, experiencing a different culture and local language will fill most people with understandable trepidation.

If you’re stuck in the midst of a planning nightmare or slightly nervous about the trip ahead, then keep reading for our guide on the things you should be prepping for your volunteer adventure. We’ll take you through the important documents and vaccinations you need, how to keep home sickness at bay and learning about the local area you’re visiting.

Remember Important Documents

As people join us from all over the world, we can’t include flights. Additionally, many volunteers join our placements as part of a wider round the world trip so it’s much easier for you to arrange your travel arrangements around your prior plans.  Don’t worry though, we’ll give you help and advice on all the preparations and what flights to book.  Once you have confirmed your flights, let us know the details and one of our friendly members of staff will come and meet you on arrival at the airport.

You’ll also need to remember to organise your travel insurance for the trip. It can be tempting to book the cheapest insurance available, but make sure you read the policies clearly as you want to ensure that you are fully covered for your whole trip, this includes; baggage, cancellation, medical and transport claims.

Many of the destinations also require you to have a visa which you will need to organise. Without a visa you won’t be able to enter the country you wish to visit, so it’s always advisable to organise this well in advance of your scheduled departure date.

Medical Preparation

The majority of medical volunteer opportunities are based in countries where medical and sanitation conditions are not as good as at home, as such it’s more than likely that you will require vaccinations for your trip. You can find out which vaccinations are free and which are to be paid for on the NHS website. It’s worth remembering that most vaccinations need to be given around 8 weeks before your travel date to ensure you can receive the full course.

As well as your vaccinations, you’ll also need to ensure that you’ve got a first aid kit and any other medical supplies you might need for your trip. Include things such as; plasters, painkillers, sterile dressings, antihistamines, insect repellent, rehydration solutions and bandage tape in your kit.

Packing Your Bags

Packing your bags is the exciting part as it means your trip is just around the corner. You will need to make sure that you have the right clothing and anything else you need for your medical placement with you.  Remember to pack for weekend trips and clothes appropriate to the hospital.  We’ll give you a kit list of the key items to take in your pre-departure information.

Read more about our handy hints to what to pack here>>.

Check the Local Area

As you’ll be travelling to a completely new part of the world, it’s essential you do as much research as possible before you begin your trip. Our team will be able to advise you on what you can expect, but it’s also worth chatting to people who’ve completed volunteering there previously. A previous student will be able to tell you all about how they felt before the placement, what to expect throughout the trip and help advise you on anything you simply must take with you.

The local culture will be extremely different to what you are used to. Embrace local traditions and customs on your trip with an open mind and sense of humour. Try learning the basics of the local language too. Basic phrases such as; ‘hello’, ‘how are you’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ can go a long way in helping to integrate you into the country.

Overcoming Home Sickness

Being so far away from home and what you are used to can be a shock, so try to beat the homesickness before it arrives at your door. Taking lots of photos with you, whether they are printed or on your phone, can be a great comfort when you’re missing home.

If you’re feeling lonely then the worst thing you can do is yourself isolate further, so talk to those who are also on placement and keep yourself busy. The internet may not always be readily available in poorer countries, but there are often a few internet cafes so you can easily Skype back home.

In some cases the internet can make homesickness worse too, so avoid overdosing on facebook when overseas or you may miss out on exciting trips or meeting new people.

Plan for Downtime

Your days will be full on but there will still be time for lots of fun in between your day to day placement duties. It’s important to make the most of your time wherever you travel, so making a list before you go of the sights you want to see can help you make the most of any down time you have.  A guidebook is essential reading before you go and will help with planning weekend trips.

It can also be a good idea to pack a few items to keep you entertained once your day to day duties have been completed. A couple of books or your iPad with some downloaded apps on can help to kill time when you have a spare few hours.

Organise Finances

How much money you require for your trip will completely depend on the destination you are visiting and the duration of your stay. We’ll give you an idea of how much to take but it’s always a good idea to take a little extra for must have souvenirs or activities.

Many areas now accept card, but it can be advisable to notify your bank before you travel to avoid them blocking your card due to different spending habits.

These are just some of the things you’ll want to prepare before you begin your adventure, so keep these in mind before you embark on your medical placement.   We are on hand both before you travel and while you are overseas so never be afraid to ask, even if you think it’s a stupid question.  The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask!