UNDER CONSTRUCTION: STAY TUNED OR CONTACT US FOR MORE INFO ON GROUP OPPORTUNITIES!
Floating Doctors accommodates groups from medical, nursing, dental, veterinary or other educational institutions. Undergraduate schools, high schools, service clubs or religious groups are also welcome.
Many of our volunteers from institutions participate for elective credit or course credit, which we enthusiastically support.
As of February 2018, Floating Doctors is developing a ‘Partnership Packet’ with complete information for institutions on the benefits and options for partnering together and making this unique opportunity available to their network.
In addition to accommodating groups as regular volunteers, we offer other options for group participation and courses that explore how to achieve responsible, sustainable, effective interventions in international development and aid work:
1.Continuing Medical Education Course
This 34.5 PRA-AMA Accredited CME course offered by the University of Minnesota, RemoteCareEducation and Floating Doctors is a 6-day immersive course held in Panama, combining didactic teaching, workshops, and live clinical deployments to train clinicians how to safely and effectively participate in medical mission work. Meals & accomodation at the Floating Doctors Base (see below, “Where you Will Be Staying” for more info) are included in the registration fee. Please visit RemoteCareEducation for details of upcoming courses and information on registration.
2.High School, College, or Non-Medical Group ‘Immersion Trip’
This one-week trip offers a rare opportunity to gain first-hand experience in the delivery of remote rural health care, and an inside look at the culture and ecology of the underserved remote regions around Bocas del Toro, Panama. Participants travel to Panama and stay at the Floating Doctors headquarters on Isla San Cristobal. The group will engage in a variety of immersion activities including visiting a jungle conservation area, touring a traditional indigenous chocolate farm, volunteering at a charitable nursing home, snorkeling a coral reef, and deploying with the Floating Doctors medical team to two remote village clinics.
During field excursions, the trip leaders will provide an ongoing commentary for everything we encounter. Our knowledge of the history, culture, ecology, and health challenges in Panama is extensive, and our staff and volunteers are always enthusiastic teachers who enjoy sharing their own excitement and discovery of everything this region has to offer. Our unique relationship with the Ngabe-Bugle people, and our presence over such a large remote region offer an unprecedented chance to travel safely to a developing region and interact with an elusive population.
The course provides participants with a unique, mentored clinical and cultural exposure. Our goal for this immersion is that it will be transformative for participants. This experience will not only encourage global thinking, international cultural and travel competence and a deeper understanding and appreciation of other cultures and environments, but also reinforces the value of service not only for others but for ourselves. 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 make us who we are, and that no one will ever be able to take away from us. Click below to view a complete description and itinerary for our Immersion Trip opportunity:
3.Floating Doctors Certificate Course: Health Care in Resource-Limited Settings
This 1-week course will provide students with first-hand experience in the delivery of remote rural health care and community development as they gain exposure to the various socio-economic factors present in underserved remote regions around Bocas del Toro, Panama. The students and faculty advisor(s) travel to Panama and stay at the Floating Doctors headquarters, where the lecture & field components of the course are based. The course will integrate both lecture-based instructions with field-based practice, including live clinical deployments with the Floating Doctors team to remote villages to provide care.
The course provides students with a unique, mentored clinical exposure coupled with didactic lectures. The course encompasses a wide variety of Global Health topics including: economic, social, and political health issues in Panama, region-specific diseases, the practice of emergency medicine in rural developing regions. cultural competency, legal and ethical issues, and the fundamental approach to interventions in resource-limited settings. Please click below to view the course syllabus:
General Description of Our Program
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 your patients outside of clinic.
During clinical days, health care students may scribe for providers or translate in clinic, assist providers in consults, ultrasounds, house calls or procedures, or may staff the pharmacy station, administration station, or clinic intake stations to check vitals, take basic histories and conduct health screening for anemia, diabetes or other conditions. Floating Doctors staff will offer explanations and context for everything we encounter. Students may also engage the children in the village school and help teach dental hygiene, handwashing, or other health promotion activities. Our staff and volunteers often come from as many as five or more nationalities, and are enthusiastic teachers and mentors. We see many interesting cases, and because our patients understand that we often have students, they are often very open to allowing our student volunteers to participate consults, procedures, or ultrasounds. Participants will gain invaluable experience as well as learning the contextual approach to solutions that are practical to the surrounding resource limitations.
Even with everything you could learn from that, we were not satisfied. Having health care students is our small way of helping to effect change in the way health care is delivered all over the world. So in addition to your clinical work, our Lead Medical Providers usually hold weekly case rounds where they (or you!) may present a case or concept the group. Students also may have the opportunity to do capacity-building with us, assisting in various development projects we usually have going on. Additionally, final-year students or students that show exceptional ability may, at the discretion of our Lead Medical Providers, be formed into Student Provider Teams, working up patients from beginning to end and presenting to our medical supervisors to review for implementation.
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
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.
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 deposit that is required for us to process your application and confirm your volunteer stay. Please submit payment at the time of application submission.
We rarely turn down volunteer applicants and if so we will refund your deposit. 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 deposit is not at risk of being forfeited.
The volunteer contribution is the backbone of our operational support–in addition to covering the costs of your accommodations and meals, they put fuel in our boats, medicine in our bags, and help cover the cost of the emergency or advanced care we get for our patients. We prefer that non-volunteer donations go towards building infrastructure and capacity, and we pride ourselves on managing almost all operational costs through our volunteer program.
Our leadership work 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. As Dr. George LaBrot always says, ‘It’s the most affordable way I know to have a life-changing experience.’ Here are our current contribution rates for regular volunteering:
- $650 for one week of stay +$100 application fee ($750 total)
- $600 per week for two weeks of stay +$100 application fee ($1,300 total)
- $550 per week for 3 weeks of stay (or longer) +$100 application fee ($1,750 for 3 weeks, $550 each additional week
**Please note that although normal contribution amounts apply to group participants, there are some important differences:
1. Some additional fees may apply to specific experiences such as the C.M.E. course, Immersion Trip, or Global Health Course.
2. Group Leaders are generally accommodated free of charge
Please contact [email protected] for more information.
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!