The Gift of Time: 2016 Healthcare Volunteerism Report

In an era when expanding access to healthcare is hotly debated, one thing appears to unite American healthcare clinicians: the desire to continue to care for less fortunate patients, whether here in the United States or abroad.

LocumTenens.com conducted the first of what will be an annual survey during the fall of 2016 to discover why healthcare clinicians, including physicians, physician assistants, CRNAs and nurse practitioners, volunteer their time and medical skills to underserved patients, both at home and abroad. This is part of the company’s efforts to support clinical volunteer work, including its support of the MedicalMissions.org website and countless organizations that support expanding healthcare access worldwide.

Do healthcare workers volunteer regularly?

Eighty-seven percent of respondents do healthcare volunteer work.

Where do clinicians volunteer their services?

How often do healthcare practitioners devote time to providing charity services?

The majority of respondents who selected “other” reported they volunteered their time two to four times a year. There were also many who said they provided year-long charitable services or on an almost-daily basis.

Is their volunteer work directly related to their specialty?

Family practice providers and surgeons mostly reported that only some of the time they volunteered their skills within their specialty. The five percent of those who rarely offered medical missions services in their own specialty included anesthesiologists, family practitioners, OB/GYNS, oncologists, psychiatrists, radiologists, neurosurgeons, emergency medicine practitioners and urgent care providers.

Charitable Partners

How do healthcare practitioners identify charitable organizations with which to partner for charity work?

While most clinicians found charity partners through colleagues or peers, most of those who selected “other” wrote they either found a partner through their church or religious organization or by founding/setting up a group themselves.

Is it easy for clinicians to find partner organizations?

Unfortunately, almost half of the healthcare providers responded they had difficulty finding charities with which to partner in their volunteer efforts. What can we do to improve this?

On MedicalMission.org, more than 180 different organizations have posted thousands of different mission opportunities, and individuals from more than 217 countries have used the site. Physicians, advanced practitioners and other healthcare providers can register on websites like this one and many others to find volunteer work matching their specialties and desired timeframe.  Other places to search for opportunities includes groups such as Doctors Without Borders, Care, Cure and through specialty-centered organizations or state medical societies.

The survey asked responders to rank, in order of importance, the things they seek most in charitable partners.

Most clinicians sought charitable partners who aligned with their values or religion and who had a need for their particular specialty or expertise. Interesting to note is malpractice coverage was one of the least important attributes to healthcare volunteers when searching for partners.

Barriers

Do clinicians think they have needed more clinical support during their previous mission trips?

These results probably do not surprise most volunteers who provide medical missions work. Clearly, adequate clinical support is often a barrier to many who want to volunteer their services to the underserved, but it isn’t the only barrier. The survey also asked responders to describe some of the barriers they face in attempting to volunteer their medical services, either at home or abroad.

What are the biggest barriers to providing medical missions services? Besides clinical resources, the majority of survey respondents named two other major obstacles inhibiting their ability to volunteer: funding and time, which both contribute to other responses, such as not being able to travel or provide for/be with family.

The biggest barriers:

Funding:

  • Finding the financial backing for their organization or for themselves to travel or bring supplies to a needy community can be quite difficult for volunteers.
  • Many volunteers have to consider the financial impacts of volunteering when leaving their family behind. Providing medical missions work sometimes means no income or using paid leave time, and registration fees and travel expenses are often out of the volunteer’s own pocket.

Time:

  • Most clinicians said they had little or no time to devote to charity work, due to the hardships of balancing their professional and personal lives.
  • Focusing on spending time with family also deterred many clinicians from taking time away from home to spend with others.

In their words, what else do healthcare clinicians say are barriers to providing medical missions work?

 

"Time off from work, the funds to pay for travel and supplies, difficulties in recruiting the needed personnel for doctors, dentists, pharmacists who also have the time...” - Emergency Medicine Physician
“Locally: health laws and malpractice coverage. Internationally: connection to the places of need, availability of radiology equipment.” - Radiologist
“Distance, communication issues, resources, and follow-up or continuity of care are the biggest barriers.” - Family Practice Physician Assistant

Caring for Patients in Need

Why do healthcare workers devote their own time or money to medical mission trips? Most responses to this survey were part of a common thread, no matter how the answer differed. Caring for patients and providing healthcare services to those most in need is the number one answer when asked why they do voluntary medical missions work, regardless of the title or specialty of the clinician responding.

“Volunteer work allows me to recall the reason I became a physician in the first place: to provide care to those who are ill.” - Ophthalmologist
“It is why I went to medical school — to serve people — NOT to make a bundle of cash! Volunteering helps me to live my personal values and it helps those with great need. My involvement in relief work in Haiti is the passion that keeps me going with the daily difficulties here at home. I volunteer at home weekly with several groups here at home.” - Emergency Medicine Physician
“I have been given a talent and a skill set that should be shared with those who do not have access or resources. Everyone deserves medical care.” - Neurosurgical Nurse Practitioner
“I do missions work to give back to the community and help those who need my skills most in underserved areas and among the most vulnerable, suffering patients.” - Hospitalist
“Although my geographic area does provide volunteer work in my specialty, often it is months before patients may be seen and evaluated by such charitable organizations. I have partnered, therefore, with a primary care volunteer organization where I am referred cases that the PCP feels may require cardiology expertise. As such, these patients can be more effectively screened by me and treatment initiated sooner as they await referral to the dedicated specialty volunteer organizations.” - Cardiologist
“There are needy people who need my services and cannot afford paying even a penny for the services. Most of them are orphans, widows and the elderly around the world. God has permitted me the opportunity to serve them.” - General Practice PA

Resources to Get Started

According to a recent LocumTenens.com survey, physicians let 3.8 paid vacation days go unused in 2016 while advanced practitioners left 4.1 on the table. Paid vacation days could go toward medical missions, whether just a day or two in the community or a few days left at the end of the year to be combined into a week overseas.

For healthcare practitioners who are unable to receive the funding to travel or take time off work, telemedicine may be a great alternative to still provide healthcare services to underserved areas and patients without leaving home or family. Telemedicine allows specialists to reach patients in remote areas through virtual technology. By 2018, it is estimated up to 7 million patients will be using telehealth services, according to a report from IHS Technology.

When asked if they would be willing to provide medical treatment or access through telemedicine in medical missions, more than half of respondents said yes, while 37 percent would consider it. 

 

Looking to find places to volunteer your skills?

Here are a few resources to help clinicians find way to volunteer their time.

Demographics of Survey Respondents

Which types of healthcare clinicians responded to this survey?

What specialties made up the majority of respondents?