For More Information on Volunteering, Click on the Category Below That Best Describes You:

Licensed Doctor, Nurse, Nurse Practitioner, Advanced Practice Nurse, or Physician’s Assistant

Doctors (including Interns, Residents, SHOs, Registrars, and Consultants), Nurses, Nurse Practitioners, Advanced Practice Nurses and Physician’s Assistants are the medical muscles of our volunteer teams. Without licensed providers our patients would not get care. For many provider volunteers, this is an opportunity to practice a very satisfying kind of medicine—where no one tells you that you have only fifteen minutes per patient, where your first line for diagnoses is the history and clinical exam and not the lab, where you are expected to spend the consult talking to and listening to your patient instead of typing on a computer, and where a house call is a common occurrence instead of a rare treat.

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.

Departing for clinic in our giant canoe

Providers licensed to prescribe are normally placed at ‘Provider’ stations to attend patients in our mobile clinics, often paired with a medical student to scribe and assist, and a translator if needed. Providers not licensed to prescribe (Nurses) often manage ‘Intake’ stations in our clinic where patient vitals and basic histories are obtained (much like the initial encounter in an emergency room), or may translate in provider stations. Specialist Nurses (like Obstetrics, Diabetes or Wound Care nurses) may be tasked with educational opportunities or specific patient needs.

Vampire Bat Bites

We see a lot of common ailments like respiratory infections, diarrheal disease, back pain and dehydration, as well as tropical conditions such as Leishmaniasis or Dengue fever and—increasingly—non-communicable diseases like Diabetes and Hypertension, which are especially challenging to manage in resource-limited settings. Acute injuries such as machete wounds are not uncommon, and there are always antenatal patient to attend. We carry portable ultrasound, and making pre-natal screening and care available (as well as family planning counseling and contraception) is a cornerstone of our clinical program. We take care of whatever we can during our deployments and coordinate advanced care in Panama City or the mainland for patients requiring more than can be done in the field. It is a challenging and extremely rewarding type of medicine requiring a contextual approach, cultural competence, creativity and adaptation and serious determination to do the best you can for every patient we see. Whether a newly-minted provider or specialist consultant, you will hone your classical diagnosis skills and learn the approaches to medical management in remote rural settings.

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.

Letting Someone Attend Your Child Also Takes Trust

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.

Dental Professionals and Students

Smile!!

Smile!

Dental services are one of the most important services we can provide. Dental care is almost impossible for the vast majority of our population to obtain, access to toothbrushes, toothpaste and dental hygiene supplies is almost nonexistent, and increasingly sugary diets result in horrific dental issues being ubiquitous throughout the region.  For years we had no dental program and it was an awful feeling to look at a deeply rotten set of teeth and not be able to do anything about it. Fortunately, that is no longer the case!

Dentists are normally busy in our clinics from the very beginning to the very end, mainly doing extractions and some fillings but also a fair amount of other procedures. Dental nurses/techs/assistants may do cleanings, exams, or other procedures within their scope of practice. Dental students may act under the supervision of an accompanying dentist or under the supervision of one of our Dental Leads when they are working with us. Dental students accepted as volunteers will always be supervised either by one of our staff dentists or other licensed dentist volunteers. Additionally, all dental volunteers—whether qualified dentists or students—are asked to include dental health education as a part of their volunteer experience, helping teach individual patients, schoolchildren, or community members waiting their turn to be seen in our clinic.

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 and Dentists usually attend between 7 and 20 patients per day, depending on the skill level of the provider and the complexity of the dental cases (the last extraction of the day always seems to be a tough one).

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, Dental volunteers normally run our dental station (including setting it up and taking it down at the end of the day), and conduct dental education. Despite high patient loads, our Clinic Managers will protect you from getting overloaded with more patients than you can attend. To make sure you are able to function effectively and safely in an unfamiliar environment, Floating Doctors staff will also 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. Our volunteers gain invaluable experience as well as learning the contextual approach to Dental challenges that are practical to the surrounding resource limitations.

Additionally, on non-clinic days, Dental volunteers assist our Pharmacy & Supply Manager with inventory, stock rotation, deep-cleaning or repairing our dental kit, reorganizing the way we store our Dental medications, or other Pharmacy maintenance or development tasks. Dental services are so valuable in our region that it is not uncommon for us to deploy a small dental team to do a ‘Dental-Only’ clinic on our non-clinic days, or to ask our Dental volunteers to provide care for the elderly patients in the nursing home we support.

Dental treatments are one of those instantly-curative medical mission tasks that can hugely benefit a patient’s immediate and future health and quality of life, and even a small amount of dental health education can have a huge impact so Dentists tend to have great experiences working with us.  It is our intention that through providing all these services, you will not only help our patients but also gain invaluable experience that will be of use in your future practice when you return home. Having students, in particular, is our way of helping to effect change in the way health care is delivered all over the world.

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.

Acupuncture or Massage Therapists

“Aqui es mi farmacia.”

Indigenous Curandero, gesturing grandly at the jungle

Working with indigenous populations and health care providers from over a dozen countries (and counting) has given us a unique perspective on the many ways healthcare can be approached. We have seen spectacular results from acupuncture or massage in very remote, rural populations and it is always a pleasure to have these resources on our team. When we have an acupuncturist, patients being seen by our medical providers for chronic pain or mental health issues frequently are referred for treatment. Time and again we have witnessed extremely impressive results.

Emotional pain and stress can easily be somaticized and present as real physical symptoms. More than one patient being treated with acupuncture for chronic neck pain has experienced a cathartic sobbing release on the acupuncture table, sharing terrible personal tragedies that they have never spoken about to anyone, and that they have been carrying inside for decades.

Additionally, we have developed very good relationships with the local curanderos (botanic medical practitioners). We afford them professional respect and recognize that the patients we are caring for are also their patients. Because we have not been dismissive, many curanderos have shared their knowledge of plant remedies with us. To date, we have documented about 75 different plant remedies used by the indigenous Ngabe with whom we work, and we are constantly impressed by the curandero’s approach and recognition of the strengths and weaknesses of their and our respective types of medicine. For acupuncturists or alternative practitioners, this is an extraordinary opportunity to have proprietary, jealously-guarded knowledge passed on willingly by our curandero friends. We have seen several extremely surprising results….ask us about the cashew based topical preparation for cutaneous Leishmaniasis.

Who knows what potential remedies may be out there, just waiting to be found…

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.

To make sure you are able to function effectively and safely in an unfamiliar environment, Floating Doctors staff will also 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. Our volunteers gain invaluable clinical experience as well as learning the contextual approach to emergency response challenges that are practical to the surrounding resource limitations, and exposure to a lot of interesting presentations.

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.

Physiotherapist, Occupational Therapist or Students

When the ibuprofen runs out, what can a patient with terrible back pain do?

After a stroke leaves her partially paralyzed, how can a rural farmer still manage to go out to the fields every day and feed her family?

In resource-limited settings, physiotherapy or occupational therapy can take on a whole new meaning in patients getting better outcomes.  An anti-inflammatory can help with back pain, and driving instead of walking can relieve the travel difficulty for a farmer in a more developed area, but in remote rural regions the knowledge and empowerment given by a physiotherapist or occupational therapist can change lives forever.

Helping a patient learn how to walk again, or teaching techniques for a family to communicate with a stroke victim who has lost speech, or helping regain flexibility after an injury, or teaching safe lifting techniques….knowledge is power, and knowledge that allows patients to take control of their own recovery can lead to amazing results.  We have seen patients stand again after being trapped in a wheelchair for years, we have seen people crippled by pain walk without agony, and we have seen people who have lost the power of speech find a way to tell their family what they need.  

From our point of view, physiotherapists and occupational therapists have a significant role to play in all of our work and we wish we had a lot more of them as volunteers!

It is an extraordinary clinical opportunity to encounter many conditions with clinical signs more advanced than would be common in more developed areas, as well as many unusual tropical conditions. Even more interesting is the extremely contextual approach to every ailment that must be considered—for example, our data shows that on average, our patients drink about 1.5-3 cups of water per day…in tropical heat. Dehydration is ubiquitous and affects many presenting conditions. However, a patient might die of dehydration because you advised them to drink more water but they drank impure water and got diarrheal disease. Here, you must look at the patient in the context of their entire environmental, mental, physical, social, economic, and cultural context when designing management approaches.

Here, physiotherapists’ and occupational therapists’ creativity and ingenuity are tested. They must design and implement effective interventions without the fancy equipment and facilities they may be used to, and do a lot of education to help our patients gain a better understanding of how they can continue to develop their own techniques to go on improving even long after the therapist has returned to their home country.

From mid January until 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 (called an ‘Asilo’) we support, and deploy for single-day clinics to two different remote communities on Tuesday and Wednesday.  We revisit 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.

The Asilo nursing home is of especial relevance to our therapy volunteers. The vast majority of patients there have either severe physical or mental handicaps (or both), and it is here that therapists can often offer far more lasting help than our doctors.

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, bilingual physiotherapists or occupational Therapists may also 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. Normally any patient with chronic pain, a speech or hearing deficit, a movement disorder or other handicap, or any issue with activities of daily living will be referred for a physiotherapy or occupational therapy consult.  To help ensure that the advice you give is practical, Floating Doctors staff will offer explanations and context for everything we encounter.  Therapists may also engage the children in the village school and help teach stretching, safe lifting, or other preventative methods to preserve mobility and physical health. Participants will gain invaluable experience as well as learning the contextual approach to solutions that are practical to the surrounding resource limitations.

During clinical deployments, therapists often conduct their activities in patients’ homes, giving a unique opportunity to be a welcome guest in many indigenous homes and spending a lot of time interacting with whole families.   You may make assessments and craft care plans that involve four or more generations of family members to help a patient!

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.

Pharmacists and Pharmacy Students

We greatly value having Pharmacists or Pharmacy Students with us. At every clinic, we have to bring our entire mobile pharmacy with us, and this has to be repacked and serviced every week, and also managed during clinics.  The challenges of maintaining and deploying adequate supplies effectively can be huge in such a dynamic tropical health landscape. Pharmacists and Pharmacy students are a huge help in prescribing across cultural and language barriers, protecting supplies against tropical heat, humidity and salt exposure, and developing tools and resources to ensure that medications are given appropriately and effectively.

It is also a fascinating look at the different ways that medication use is approached in resource-limited, remote settings and offers a lot of insight into the variety of ways Pharmacy knowledge can be utilized in addressing global health issues.  

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 (called an ‘Asilo’) 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, Pharmacists or Pharmacy Students normally run our mobile pharmacy, helping to keep it organized and prepping/dispensing medications as needed by prescribers. It is not uncommon for us to attend well over 100 patients in a single clinic day and the demands on our pharmacy can be significant. To make sure you are able to function effectively and safely in an unfamiliar environment, 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. Our volunteers gain invaluable experience as well as learning the contextual approach to Pharmacy challenges that are practical to the surrounding resource limitations.

Additionally, on non-clinic days, Pharmacy volunteers assist our Pharmacy & Supply Manager with inventory, stock rotation, deep-cleaning or repairing our pharmacy and equipment, reorganizing the way we store our medications, or other Pharmacy maintenance or development tasks.  Pharmacy volunteers also bring a lot of development potential for things like creating patient hand-outs for people starting new medications, or prescribing guidelines for medical providers, or information on different types of family planning options, or educational sessions on how to take different kinds of medications (such as why antibiotics need to be taken regularly, but Ibuprofen for back pain could be as-needed).  A single dedicated pharmacy volunteer can sometimes leave a legacy behind in the form of a more robust and effective pharmacy program that will continue helping more people log after they have returned home.

It is our intention that through providing these services, you will gain invaluable experience that will be of use in your future practice when you return home. Having students is our way of helping to effect change in the way health care is delivered all over the world.

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.

Public Health Researcher, Worker, or Student


“If it can’t be measured, it can’t be improved.”

-Mark Schelbert, Floating Doctors Board Member

Without a good knowledge of the baseline health landscape in which you are operating, how can you be sure that your interventions address the true health priorities?

Without good patient documentation, how can you claim to provide quality care and avoid double-treating or trying the same ineffective (or harmful) treatments over and over again?

And without ongoing surveillance, how can you be sure that what you did was helpful, not harmful?

It is because of these questions that we maintain good records on all our patients, gathering the data necessary for continuity of care by subsequent providers, and also gathering the individual and community data necessary to identify and quantify the health needs in the region, mark any emergent issues or epidemics, and track the success or failure of our interventions.  We therefore welcome Public Health researchers, because we have far more data and questions–and many more opportunities to gather huge amounts of rare data over a very large region–than we can manage on our own. Every new answer we uncover leads to new and interesting aspects of health to explore.

Our data is currently gathered on paper records that are scanned and sent to a transcription service to be added to our database. As of May 2017 we have over 35,000 patient records in our database, with detailed health and demographic data shielded by unique patient identification numbers.  We are also developing a tablet-based Electronic Medical Record system (EMR) that can set up as a remote Local Areas Network in our mobile clinics, out of wifi or cell range and then ‘synced’ to our database when returning to base.  However, as excited as we are about moving off paper, we will not do so until our EMR can outperform our paper system, and for us that means 1) less burden of documentation and more time focusing on the patient, 2) more detailed patient data gathered more rapidly, 3) more consistent quality of care through treatment prompts and other failsafes, and 4) live tracking of our pharmacy inventory and usage.  For us, it has to perform BETTER, not just be newer!

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 (called an ‘Asilo’) [‘Asilo’ should hyperlink to open the page for our ‘Asilo’ Program in a new tab] 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, Public Health volunteers may engage in research or 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 (which we will teach you), 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. Our staff and volunteers often come from as many as five or more nationalities, and are enthusiastic teachers and mentors.

We have spent years working with the indigenous Ngabe-Bugle of Panama, and we now enjoy a unique relationship of trust and openness with this elusive population. This means that a brand-new volunteer can enjoy real and honest interactions gathering data in this population without having to spend years developing a relationship themselves, making this an ideal volunteer experience for researchers looking to answer specific questions. Our large volume of existing data gives very good baseline information over a 10,000 square mile area, so any more focused data gathered in a short time can be compared to this baseline.  In a region with very little real data, every piece of quality information we can obtain gives us more capacity and effectiveness in the region.  We have even collected data on local botanic plant remedies, and would like to do a lot more of this with the right partner. 

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.

Paramedics, Firefighters, Military, and First Responders

What happens when there is an emergency…and there is no one you can call?

We spend most of our time working way outside regions where emergency response might conceivably be able to reach. When our patients have emergencies, immediate transport could mean a 60-mile open boat journey at night through tricky water, or eight people carrying someone down from the mountains in a hammock hanging from a bamboo pole.

Fortunately, such emergencies are not very common…but common enough that we carry emergency equipment on every deployment. You just never know what will come up:  drowning, boat accidents, falls out of trees, chainsaw accidents, crushed by falling debris or timber, diabetic emergencies, ruptured appendixes, heart attacks and strokes, axe wounds, acute meningitis…when you are the only game in town, everything gets brought to you.

Having volunteers with strong medical technical skills and experience in keeping patients safe and stable in emergencies can literally be a life-saver, and emergency workers can be great at keeping a cool head in a crisis and helping provide leadership to the rest of the volunteer team.

When there are (thankfully) no emergencies, emergency response workers 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.  EMS workers may also engage the children in the village school and help teach dental hygiene, handwashing, wound care and first aid, the recovery position, management of choking or other valuable health knowledge skills.

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.

To make sure you are able to function effectively and safely in an unfamiliar environment, Floating Doctors staff will also 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. Our volunteers gain invaluable clinical experience as well as learning the contextual approach to emergency response challenges that are practical to the surrounding resource limitations, and exposure to a lot of interesting presentations.

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.