Medical Volunteer Opportunities Abroad

Years of working closely with the indigenous Ngäbe-Buglé communities in our network have forged a relationship of trust and cooperation giving our volunteers 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.

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A young male medical volunteer wearing scrubs shows a young child wearing a stethoscope how to listen to his heart, while three more children watch

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.

Throughout the year, we typically run two weekly clinical schedules— single-day clinic weeks and multi-day clinic weeks.

In the first schedule, we conduct volunteer orientation and training on Monday, and then deploy to three different communities for single-day clinics Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  On Friday, we go through our clinical data, follow up with select patients seen, and re-pack our mobile pharmacy for the following week. Fridays may also be spent working on other community development, longitudinal, or health education projects. Depending on the community size, typical patient loads per clinic day run from about 40 to 130 patients.

In our second schedule, our multi-day schedule, we deploy to particularly remote communities, typically departing on Monday and staying within the community we are visiting through Thursday. During this schedule, we sleep in hammocks (with mosquito nets) within a space identified by the host community. These clinics offer a unique opportunity to get to know more about our patients and their families outside of clinic, and it is not uncommon to end the day with a volleyball or soccer game before bed.

A line of about twenty people wait around a free clinic building in a jungle, with a large Floating Doctors sign on it.

Our minimum volunteer commitment is 1 week with no maximum, with all new volunteers arriving before 4:30 PM on Sundays. We require a participation contribution from each volunteer. The volunteer contribution is the backbone of our operational support that allows us to provide accommodations, meals, and all travel for our clinical and service deployments on site. This also covers travel to base Sunday evening and to Bocas on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning. Most staff and volunteers stay at hostels in Bocas town on Friday and/or Saturday night to enjoy the town, but volunteers staying multiple weeks may elect to stay on base during the weekend. Additionally, our volunteer contributions fund medications for our pharmacy, emergency and advanced care for patients, equipment repair and purchase, and some other program costs associated with the volunteer’s stay. 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.

There is a non-refundable $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.

Volunteer Contribution Rates (Shown in USD)

Rates shown are per week. 2024 Example: 1 week stay = $900, 2 week stay = $1800, 5 week stay = $4250, 9 week stay = $7200.
All NEW volunteers must pay a $100 application fee at the time of applying which is separate from the weekly volunteer contribution rate.

Rate Per Week Based on Total Length of Stay2024
1-4 Weeks$900.00
5-8 Weeks$850.00
9-12 Weeks$800.00
13+ Weeks$750.00
Dental and Vet Volunteers$750.00
Under 18$750.00
Returning Volunteers$750.00

Please note that full payment is not required to complete your online application; only the $100 application deposit is required at the time of signing up. Full payment, or the first month if staying longer than 1 month, will be due 4 weeks prior to your arrival. While the volunteer contribution is never forfeit, it is considered non-refundable at 4 weeks prior to arrival. Please contact Brianna at Volunteerinfo@FloatingDoctors.com for fundraising resources if interested.

***If you have volunteered with us before and would like to return, you may not need to submit another application. Please contact Brianna at Volunteerinfo@FloatingDoctors.com ***

For More Information on what you will be doing, review the category that best describes you:

Licensed Medical Professionals (MD, DO, NP, PA)

Three medical volunteers wearing masks and scrubs talk to a patient and her two children.

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.

Providers licensed to prescribe (Doctors– including Interns, Residents, SHOs, Registrars, and Consultants, NPs, APNs, and PAs) 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.

Nurses and Allied Health Professionals

A line of medical volunteers wearing scrubs walk on a path through grassland with trees and sky in the background.

Nurses and Allied Health Professionals gain invaluable experience in cross-cultural competency and in providing the best possible care in resource-limited settings. Professionals such as paramedics and EMTs often manage the Intake stations in our clinic where patient vitals, basic histories are obtained, and triage occurs (much like the initial encounter in an emergency room), or may translate in provider stations. Physical and Occupational Therapists collaborate with the medical providers and complete therapy assessments and treatments in the clinics and in patients’ homes. Specialists, like Midwives, Diabetes nurses, or Wound Care nurses may be tasked with educational opportunities and work in tandem with providers to deliver care specific to their skill set.

Healthcare Students

A young woman medical volunteer holds a baby at a clinic

During clinical days, healthcare students may scribe for providers, translate in clinic and assist providers in consults and procedures. They may staff the pharmacy, administration, or clinic intake stations to check vitals, take basic histories and conduct health screenings. 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, hand washing, or other health promotion activities.  Participants will gain invaluable experience as well as learning the practical approach to solutions that are specific to the community and environment.

In addition to clinical work, our Lead Medical Providers typically hold weekly case rounds where they or the volunteer may present a case or concept to the group. Additionally, final-year students 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.

Dental Professionals and Students

A volunteer dentist wearing a mask treats a patient while his dental assistant watches and helps.

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.

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.

Veterinary Professionals and Students

Not all of our patients walk on two legs! Veterinary services are extremely rare for the entire region in which we operate. When word gets out that we have a Veterinarian with us, many children will race home to return with baskets of puppies or kittens for us to attend, but also the occasional jungle animal that may have been tamed to keep in the villages, or that are brought in injured as rescues or recovered from poachers. So far we have attended monkeys, agouti, sloths, kinkajous, javelinas, parrots, and even rescued a sea turtle harpooned for the bushmeat trade and two baby pumas from a poacher who had killed the mother and tried to sell the kittens on the black market as exotic pets.

A young woman smiles while a small furry animal sits on her shoulder at a Floating Doctors free veterinary clinic

Beyond the need to advocate for the animal patients who can’t speak on their own behalf, providing veterinary services also protects our human patients. Zoonoses such as hookworm can be prevented by something as simple as feeding deworming tablets to the village dogs. Additionally, an entire family’s livelihood may depend on their small horse, or all their savings could be invested in a pig or cow. Being able to keep these animals in good health supports the self-sustainability of the rural farming families we serve.

Veterinarians normally work alongside our doctors in our clinical deployments. We see a lot of animals brought to the clinic location, and invariably are called to go on a house call, for anything from a calf that won’t feed to a snakebitten horse to a monkey with a bad splinter.  Deworming, treating for skin parasites, treating wounds, spaying & neutering, and a wide variety of treatments for a wide variety of presentations is typical. 

It is our pleasure to provide veterinary services to the communities throughout the year, and students and veterinarians are always welcome. This experience is often utilized by veterinary students as an elective rotation for two to four weeks.

Non-medical Volunteers

A young woman smiles and listens to a patient at a clinic while children watch

We believe that early and regular exposure to service work is a critical part of ensuring that a commitment to service remains a part of your life forever. Just because you are not a doctor does not mean you lack the power to make someone’s life better. Kindness requires no special degree, and there is no talent or skill that cannot be expressed in a way that is of service to others. 

A young woman smiles as she organizes a large waterproof traveling case full of medical supplies

During clinical days, non-medical volunteers 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,) and take basic histories. Floating Doctors staff will offer explanations and context for everything we encounter. Volunteers may also engage the children in the village school and help teach dental hygiene, handwashing, or other health promotion activities. Participants will gain invaluable experience as well as learn the contextual approach to solutions that are practical to the surrounding resource limitations. Volunteers also may have the opportunity to do capacity-building with us, assisting in various development projects we usually have going on.

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