Health Care Volunteers and Disaster Response

When disaster strikes, spontaneous volunteers can overwhelm a disaster response system, despite the fact their assistance is so badly needed.

Health care professionals who know they may want to volunteer in future crises can take several simple steps now to help make the response system work more effectively, according to this overview of how medical volunteers can prepare to help in public health emergencies and disasters.

Key Findings:

  • Health care professionals who may wish to volunteer in the future should register now with existing volunteer organizations, such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ programs; numerous nongovernmental organizations here and abroad; and professional associations. Many provide advance verification of medical credentials to ensure volunteers can be deployed quickly and their skills well utilized in time of crisis.
  • Future volunteers can take advantage of short training courses on disaster response medicine offered by organizations such as the AMA, Red Cross, FEMA and the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma.
  • Future volunteers should learn about the realities of crisis response and consider honestly their ability and willingness to provide assistance.
  • They should also receive immunizations and prophylactic medications that may be required and may need time to confer immunities.
  • Health care workers should consider at which point in the disaster response cycle their skills can be best utilized (early response versus recovery and reconstruction), and partner with a relief organization whose mission matches their abilities.

Medical volunteerism is challenging but can be professionally and personally rewarding. The article suggests potential volunteers consider making a long-term commitment to an organization that responds to a variety of events, thus helping build resilience to disasters.