• Aside from the medical training, what else can I do to prepare myself for an MSF mission?

    Be aware of the limitations of medical delivery services in developing countries, the politics involved, social conditions limiting education and access to medical care. Read, read, read!!! MSF sites are a good resource for this, as well as other nongovernmental organization and relief web sites. Please see the links to public health, epidemiology, journals and nongovernmental sites listed on this web site. Languages are a key asset. Do your best to be proficient in at least one other language than English such as French, Spanish or Arabic.

  • Do you have to be an expert on a specific topic to work with MSF?

    No, you are briefed and given information on your mission before you leave, so you often have some time to do specific reading before leaving. Some missions such as nutritional missions have specific protocols which you follow. MSF has extensive literature on nutrition and other medical topics which are available in the missions. As the doctor, you have to make decisions about treating associated medical conditions, and for this you need a general medical background. You also have backup: if there are other medical people on your mission (laboratory technicians, nurses and doctors); your project’s medical coordinator; the medical department, the experts in Europe, who are specialists in nutrition, malaria, etc; and the local medical staff hired by MSF, colleagues who will know a lot about endemic diseases.

  • How can I gain practical experience which will be helpful on an MSF mission?

    Electives in tropical medicine, infectious diseases, community health and work in a travel clinic are all good places to start. Electives within and outside of Canada in remote locations with limited ability to transfer out patients or consult with specialists are also an asset as this is the situation in many MSF projects. Overseas electives will give you some idea of what to expect, although you may be working under completely different conditions on your mission. On most MSF missions in tropical areas or malaria-endemic areas, a sound knowledge of malaria is highly useful.

  • How much experience in tropical medicine do I really need?

    Alongside good general medical abilities, tropical medicine knowledge and skills are an asset in many MSF projects. The exact extent however, will depend on your specific mission. Some missions focus on one disease, such as a sleeping sickness or tuberculosis program, where you will become very familiar with that particular disease. Of course you will not be treating this disease exclusively, so the more you know about what is endemic to that region, the better. At the project location in the field, MSF often has a medical library where you can access standard reference books, such as Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, the Merck Manual, Nelson's Pediatrics, and Manson's Tropical Medicine. MSF also has its own publications which are practical and to-the-point. These resources can help you with specific situations such as dealing with a measles or meningitis epidemic. MSF also has a comprehensive “treasury”, a set of electronic documents with extensive medical and nonmedical information that can often help field teams in remote settings make key clinical and operational decisions.

  • What are the main diseases you treat on an MSF mission?

    This will depend on where you are and what is endemic in that area. However, in general you will be dealing mostly with malaria, parasitic diseases, diarrheal illnesses, fevers of unknown origin and respiratory infections, and programs such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Childhood diseases are common and vaccinations are a priority for MSF. Malnutrition is a key part of many projects. Outside of ambulatory issues, pediatrics and tropical medicine, it is important you already have an approach to obstetrical and gynecological problems, mental health, tropical dermatology, trauma, surgical issues, orthopedics and stabilizing seriously ill patients with little advanced resources.

  • Will I be the only doctor or medical person on my first mission?

    You may well be on an isolated mission, days and a significant distance away from another doctor or medical person, or you may be working with a doctor with a lifetime of experience, or even a team of several people all on their first mission. Each mission is different and has specific challenges.