Commercialization of Voluntourism

The class identified many problems with medical voluntourism in our final collaborative project. One specific problem was with companies advertising volunteer trips as a necessity for a resume. I had never thought about the commercialization of volunteering abroad, where companies potentially profit off volunteers and foreign societies by setting up mission trips. I was disheartened by the amount of companies that seemed to emphasize improving your resume over focusing on helping developing  communities. The travel volunteer industry is supposedly a billion dollar industry that attracts millions of volunteers yearly and has individuals spend thousands of dollars to go abroad to volunteer. On many websites I explored, improving your resume was mentioned on the first page with sayings like “Gain an international perspective on healthcare while shadowing physicians for 20 hours/week. Do research and take MCAT classes to build your med school resume” (Atlantis). During one of the group discussions on the collaborative course statement, we emphasized the negative impacts of advertising the resume boosting potential of volunteering abroad, such as attracting people who lacked the right intentions when it came to volunteering. Our discussion brought up the fact that graduate schools were actually turning away from certain international volunteer trips on applications. “We caution applicants to be discerning regarding involvement in clinical activities in international settings. Such experiences could harm how their medical school applications are viewed if they engaged in unsupervised clinical activities with patients or if their involvement was outside of their training” (AAMC). This is a step in the right direction to help ensure that good intentioned people volunteer for experiences without their resume in mind and to help prevent companies from advertising the necessity of volunteering trips for applications. While volunteering abroad can be a fulfilling experience, it is up to both the companies and individuals to be extremely cautious and ethical in order to ensure a positive experience for both the volunteer and the communities they volunteer in.

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