“Recognize that every interaction you have is an opportunity to make a positive impact on others.”

—Shep Hyken

How do you connect people thousands of miles and worlds apart, who will never meet? How can you make them know and care about one another?

In the 21st century, the answer is found in the power to capture and share images and videos of incredible power. The driving force behind our delivery of health care is the worldwide network of support behind us, and keeping that network engaged and informed about what they continue to make possible is both necessary for support and our obligation to those who have already reached out to make what we possible.

The right images, captured with respect and no dignity, inspire volunteers and support and are our favorite example of how you don’t have to be a doctor to drive the delivery of health care to remote underserved areas. A talented photographer, or a good storyteller with a GoPro or smartphone, can share content that results in people in need getting care. It is so difficult for us to collect content like this (out hands are usually very full!) that we welcome documentarians coming to help.

From mid January till mid December, we typically run two weekly clinical schedules—there are weeks where on Monday we do new volunteer training and work in the government nursing home we support, and deploy for single-day clinics to two different remote communities on Tuesday and Wednesday.  We re-visit the nursing home, handle our clinical data and re-pack our mobile pharmacy on Thursdays, and on Friday a small team revisits both communities to do follow up while the rest of the team works on other projects. Depending on the community size, typical patient loads per clinic day run from about 40 to 130 patients.

During our second type of weekly schedule, we do new volunteer training and nursing home work on Monday, and deploy on ‘multiday’ clinics Tuesday-Friday to particularly remote villages, bringing hammocks and mosquito nets to live in the target community during the multiday. These clinics offer the unique opportunity to be a welcome guest in a Ngabe village and get to know our patients outside of clinic.


Documentarians will coordinate with Floating Doctors before traveling to pick specific deliverables that fits current F.D. need and the skill sets of the volunteer(s).  Documentarians normally deploy on every clinic, and also may be asked to accompany and document patients on journeys to receive advanced medical care.

Floating Doctors staff will offer explanations and context for everything we encounter. Our staff and volunteers often come from as many as five or more nationalities, and are enthusiastic teachers and mentors. Construction volunteers can both teach—and learn from—the local Panamanian builders we often partner with to help newly arrived construction volunteers orient to the techniques and materials used in our region.


Years of working closely with the indigenous Ngäbe-Buglé communities in our network has forged a relationship of trust and cooperation giving our volunteers a unique access to a very different culture.  Our goal for our volunteers is that their experience will be transformative, not only encouraging global thinking and a deeper understanding and appreciation of other cultures and environments, but also reinforcing the value of service not only for others but for ourselves. It is never long until the cultural differences become lost in all the ways it is clear we are the same. This is an opportunity to reach out across vast gulfs of experience, culture, geography, socioeconomic status, education, and other factors and make real connections based on our shared humanity that transcend all of those differences.  It is also an incredible opportunity for documentarians to have access to an otherwise elusive population and be able to preserve increasingly rare cultural traditions before they are gone forever.

When we travel and experience new things, it changes us—but when we combine real service to others with our travel, it adds a new dimension to our trip. We find that we do not take a journey; the journey takes us instead. These are trips that are not just fun, or entertaining, or a great learning experience—these are the experiences that stay with us forever, that help us define who we are, and that no one can ever take away from us.

Where You Will Be Staying:

Volunteers and staff stay at the Floating Doctors base on Isla San Cristobal, a 10-minute boat ride from the town of Bocas del Toro on Isla Colon. Our headquarters is an off-the-grid remote facility located on a mangrove island, relying on solar power, rain catchment and filtration, and biotreatment of waste. Participants sleep in our 9-room bunkhouse dormitory or in small casitas, and deploy from our base to our target communities. Our leadership and facilities staff work very hard to keep our volunteers comfortable and well-fed, but please remember that these are accommodations built and maintained with much struggle against an unforgiving environment—far more comfortable than camping, but not the Ritz! Our headquarters is a working medical support base built for the purpose of delivering health care to remote jungle communities. There is not air conditioning, but electric fans and mosquito nets are provided for every bed. Our kitchen is run by a team of women and men from the neighboring village of Valle Escondido and they are justifiably proud of the meals they prepare for us.

We ask that participants be adaptable and enjoy the adventure of living off the grid, and the sight of glowing bioluminescence at night, the occasional visiting sloth, or flocks of parrots returning home overhead at the end of the day. The mangroves and the jungle are beautiful, especially at night, and swimming or snorkeling off the dock in the warm clear tropical water is a great way to cool off at the end of a day out in the field.

Accommodations every night, and all meals from Sunday night to Friday night will be provided.  Cooking facilities are available for volunteers and staff staying on base for a quiet weekend to prepare their own food; often volunteers and staff stay at hostels in Bocas town Friday and/or Saturday night to enjoy Bocas’ night life).  There is access to Wi-Fi, showers and other basic amenities.  All program-related transportation is provided, as well as regular scheduled water shuttle service twice daily between Bocas town on Isla Colon and the Floating Doctors headquarters.  

What you will need to apply:

We have an online application (link below) where you can fill out your information, desired dates, emergency contact info, etc. To submit the online application, you will also need to have several documents ready: AND THEY MUST BE NAMED AND FORMATTED CORRECTLY:

Naming format for uploaded documents is: Lastname_Firstname_Document
Example: A Resume for John Smith should be named “Smith_John_Resume


Because our goal is not only providing health services locally, but also to affect health systems in the home countries of our volunteers through tropical and clinical exposure and mentoring, our volunteer selection process is very open compared to most volunteer organizations. We accept volunteers at many skill levels from bilingual veteran mission doctors to non-Spanish speaking students interested in an immersion experience. We normally have capacity throughout the year to accept people when they would like to come, although we strongly urge you to submit your application several months in advance, especially during our high season (May-July).


  • One COLOR copy of your passport photo page
  • One copy of your resume
  • One letter of intent outlining what you feel you would give to a program such as ours as well as what you hope to take away from the experience
  • Two letters of recommendation

Common questions:

How long is a volunteer commitment?
We accept volunteers for varying lengths of time, from as short as one week to over a year.

Do I have to be able to speak Spanish?
No. It is highly desirable to speak Spanish, not only to function more effectively in our clinic, but also to deepen your experience interacting with our target population. We try to maintain at least 50% ratio of Spanish-speakers on our team of volunteers and leaders, and we may occasionally cap our volunteer numbers if there are not enough bilingual volunteers. We usually pair a non-Spanish-speaking volunteer with a translator or bilingual volunteer, or assign them to clinic roles that do not require Spanish.

Do I have to be a doctor to volunteer?
No. We accept Volunteers of almost all ages and backgrounds besides medical workers, because we believe that there is no talent or skill that cannot be expressed in a way that is of service to others.

Are there any costs involved?
Yes. We require a participation contribution from each volunteer that allows us to provide accommodations, meals, and all travel for our clinical and service deployments on site. Additionally, our volunteer contributions fund medications for our pharmacy, emergency and advanced care for patients, equipment repair and purchase, and almost all our other operational costs for maintaining a remote rural health care service providing help for over 10,000 patients annually.
There is a $100 application fee that is required for us to process your application and confirm your volunteer stay.

We very rarely turn down volunteer applicants; our application process is not a competitive process and is meant to coordinate applicants so we have the right distribution of specialties, training ability, and language ability on our team at a given time, so your $100 application fee is not at high risk of being forfeited.

The fees of those not accepted at this time or who drop out during the application process will go to support the fuel costs for our mobile clinic deployments to remote communities; however if your application is not accepted initially but you come at a later date, your original application fee will be discounted from your participation donation at that time–you will not need to pay an application fee twice.

As an organization that provides an extraordinary volunteer experience and health care and community development for tens of thousands of patients, the volunteer contribution is the backbone of our operational support–we prefer that non-volunteer donations go towards building infrastructure and capacity, and we pride ourselves on managing almost all our operational costs through our volunteer program. Our leadership works very hard to provide a safe and rewarding experience for our volunteers and high-quality health services for our patients.

Our Volunteer contribution fees are quite low compared to locally available hotel and food charges; your contribution covers your accommodations, excellent meals, and all costs associated with our teams deploying to the field (medications, supplies, fuel, boat captains, etc). As Dr. George LaBrot always says, “It’s the most affordable way I know to have a life-changing experience.”

  • $600 for one week of stay +$100 application fee ($700 total)
  • $550 per week for two weeks of stay +$100 application fee ($1,200 total)
  • $500 per week for three weeks of stay +$100 application fee ($1,600 total)
  • $450 per week if volunteering for one month or longer +$100 application fee ($1,900 for 4 weeks; $450 each additional week)

Please note that only the $100 application fee is required at the time of the submission of your application.

Will I actually spend most of my time doing service work, or will I see one patient and spend the rest of my time lounging around?
You will work very hard, with lots of clinical exposure and many, many opportunities to be of service. There will be ample time off at the weekends for leisure and exploring all the fun things the region has to offer, but if you are looking for somewhere you can work for one day and spend the rest of your time lying on the beach with a piña colada, and then home bragging about your medical mission trip, you are on the wrong organization’s website. If you are looking to work hard and make a real difference, you have come to the right place!

When should I apply?
Right now, of course! ☺