Study and Research
HEALTHCARE VOLUNTEERS: PREFERENCES & TRENDS
Neilesh Patel, Founder, HealthCare Volunteer
For this issue of the Research Forum section of “The VolunTourist,” I am pleased to present a summary regarding recent research conducted on health-related volunteers from Neilesh Patel (lead investigator) and Elliot Mendelsohn of HealthCare Volunteer, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization that created the world’s first research on global health volunteering preferences and trends. Neilesh Patel is a student at UCLA school of dentistry and is the CEO/Founder of HealthCare Volunteer, a global health volunteering organization whose mission is to connect any volunteer with a health-related volunteering opportunity regardless of training (www.healthcarevolunteer.org) Mr. Patel has collected and analyzed some very important data regarding health-related volunteers and the communities in which they work, which once again reminds us of the importance of research in the area of voluntourism! Mr. Patel claims that a major discrepancy in volunteer location preferences exists and that we must establish new programs in locations with dire need.
Did you know that:
- California ranks as the most popular U.S. destination state for health-related volunteers.
- Peru, India, Kenya and Australia rank as top international destinations for health volunteers.
- Obstetrics and gynecology ranks as the most desired medical specialty for health-related volunteers
As globalization ensues at full force, health-related volunteering has followed a similar course. Volunteers of all capacities have embraced globalization and now yearn to volunteer abroad. Healthcare is one sector that has had no shortage of volunteers going abroad. HealthCare Volunteer (www.healthcarevolunteer.org), a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization, has published its first annual report on global volunteering trends including top locations, religious preferences and health specialties most likely to volunteer. From April, 2006 through December, 2006 using both the Healthcare Volunteer and Dental Volunteer search engines, data were collected on volunteer search preferences with regards to location, religion and specialty. A “search” was defined as the number of times that the search results page loaded (not a unique search). The Healthcare Volunteer search engine, received 19,580 searches. The Dental Volunteer search engine, 10,461 received searches.
Volunteers in the research study were from over 119 countries with the greatest number of volunteers being physically located in the United States (76%), Canada (7%), United Kingdom (5%), Australia (1%), Kenya (1%) and India (1%). The other 113 countries totaled less than 1% per country. While the study is too large to include in total here, it is available in full via this pdf. The following is a brief summary of highlights that our voluntourism readers might find useful.
In terms of preferred destinations for health-related volunteering, study results indicate that North American health volunteers had a proportionately higher desire to volunteer locally. Internationally, each region had its “hot spot.” In Africa, Kenya was the most desired location for health-related volunteering, whereas Peru was the most popular destination in South America. In Asia, India was the most desired destination, while in the Oceania region Australia was the top destination.
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In terms of destination, the volunteering trends were similar between dental and medical volunteers, with the majority desiring to volunteer in the United States (with California being the most desirable state). North America (22%) was the most popular, followed by Asia (19%), Africa (12%), South America (9%), and Europe (9%). Nursing, Obstetrics and gynecology and non-health professional volunteers were the top three desired medical functions of health-related volunteering in 2006. General dentistry ranked 5th, public health ranked 8th and family medicine ranked 4th.
The most common religious affiliation preferences for volunteers were Christianity (62%) followed by Catholicism (17%) of people. Of those volunteers with the opportunity to search for health-related volunteer experiences by religion, 6% did. The remainder of the volunteer searches were split between Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, Buddhist, Hindu, and Other.
One of the most important findings from the study revealed that the discrepancy between the demand for certain volunteer locations and the actual healthcare worker shortage in that country was severely mismatched. For instance, when comparing the density per 1000 people of physicians in the most popular country and least popular country, it was ironic to find countries with greater healthcare access limitations had fewer volunteers searching to go there. For instance, Brazil, the most popular country in South America, had a 1.15:1000 physician to population ratio while, Suriname, the least popular country in South America, had a 0.45:1000 ratio.
As health-related volunteering grows, we must ensure that grant makers, private foundations and other funding sources be aware of countries that have received a disproportionately higher amount of funding, thereby leaving other countries without appropriate funding for health-related altruism. Nevertheless, these volunteering trends show that certain countries have historically been targeted by healthcare aid organizations, and these countries attract a proportionately higher amount of volunteer interest.
In order to foster new aid organizations to areas that have been neglected or perhaps previously unknown by healthcare volunteers, we must educate volunteers about the overwhelming need in new areas, and subsequently work with local NGO and government organizations in these countries to foster a wider spread of aid instead of a mere concentration of aid in select countries. If one of the goals of healthcare volunteering is to create a bit of equality in healthcare access among needy people, then we must ensure that our altruistic efforts are not inadvertently enhancing the inequality.
I hope you enjoyed this edition’s Research Forum! If you have any questions or comments, please submit your questions to The Voluntourist newsletter, e-mail Neilesh at email@example.com, or check out the full report to learn more!
See you next issue!
Nancy McGehee , Ph.D.
Hospitality and Tourism Management, Virginia Tech
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