Preparing surgeons to work overseas

JHUP author Dr. Adam L. Kushner will be signing copies of Operation Health in Chicago next week at the American College of Surgeons’ Clinical Congress 2015. Meet Adam and get your signed copy of  at the Exhibit Hall Resource Center Book Signing Booth on Monday, October 5, from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. and on Tuesday, October 6, from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.  The book signing is hosted by Operation Giving Back, a resource designed to help surgeons find volunteer opportunities best suited to their expertise and interests.

Guest post by Adam L. Kushner, MD, MPH, FACS

kushnerIn low-resource countries 288.2 million people need surgical care. Reducing this burden requires improving local health systems and building capacity, but volunteer surgeons can also help. As interest by surgeons in volunteering overseas increases, proper preparation is important. Below is a modified outline based on a guide for surgical residents and students.


  1. Determine why, where, and for how long you can go.
  2. Choose an organization or a country and site, establish goals and connections, and plan a budget and adequate financing for the trip.
  3. Prepare items to bring along: these include personal items, personal medical equipment, and any items to donate after consulting the host facility.
  4. Be a smart traveler: arrange visas, vaccinations, flights, food, water, living, and travel arrangements.

The visitor’s role at the hosting facility:

  1. Ensure that adequate clinical supervision is available.
  2. Remember that local training programs take priority.
  3. Work within the local system(s) and protocols.
  4. Take care of your own health.
  5. Maintain a surgical case log (end of each day).
  6. Consider opportunities for using/establishing blogs or mass e-mails.

Activities after returning:

  1. Continue communication with hosts after your experience.
  2. Provide a written summary to your sponsor(s).
  3. Share your experiences through a variety of channels (acknowledge and, when possible, include international colleagues in your reports).
  4. Volunteer as an advisor to others who wish to follow you.

Another good source of volunteer information for surgeons is available from the American College of Surgeons at Operation Giving Back.

Adam L. Kushner, MD, MPH, FACS is an associate in the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, a lecturer in the Department of Surgery at Columbia University, and the founder and director of Surgeons OverSeas. He is the editor of Operation Health: Surgical Care in the Developing World.

Read a review of Operation Health in The Lancet.