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Global health and non-profit careers for physicians

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Physicians or medical professionals with an interest in non-profit work or global health may desire a change from the traditional structure of medicine in favor of broader, population-based work that typically goes hand in hand with non-profit positions. Physicians can hold administrative roles working for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), or counsel and serve global non-profit organizations by providing medical services or expertise. Physicians with global health careers may choose to work for organizations that seek medical doctors to provide medical aid services for underserved areas of the world for short-term missions or following global disasters, while others may seek longer-term assignments.

Physicians, particularly those with public health, global health, healthcare administration, or business backgrounds may find that there is no shortage of positions in nonprofits around the world that could benefit from physician knowledge and training. Those with merely an interest in international health policy and relations are likely to find the same.

NGO DirectorMedical DirectorGlobal Health Provider
Example Duties▪ Manage and oversee budget and fundraising initiatives ▪ Manage personnel and resource utilization  ▪ Serve as a liaison between medical professionals for a global non-profit organization ▪ Counsel regarding implementation of public health initiatives▪ Provide medical care to patients in underserved, war-torn, or disaster-stricken areas ▪ Conduct training for medical volunteers at international locations  
Example Employers▪ Non-governmental organization▪ Medical nonprofit ▪ Global health organization such as WHO▪ Medical not-for-profit

Job Responsibilities

Jobs in the field of nonprofit work and global health can include serving as director of an NGO, medical director of a nonprofit or global health program, coordinating health services or volunteers for globally underserved areas, fundraising and donor procurement, or working with medical non-profits providing healthcare services globally.

Job responsibilities may include:

  • Managing and oversee budget and fundraising initiatives
  • Counseling organizations regarding implementation of public health initiatives
  • Serving as a liaison between medical professionals for a global non-profit
  • Managing personnel and resource utilization
  • Overseeing medical supply orders
  • Conducting training for medical volunteers at international locations
  • Working with nonprofit donors or on fundraising efforts

Work Environment and Schedule

For those seeking a position in the US working for an NGO in an administrative capacity, work is generally confined to an office within regularly scheduled hours. On some occasions, attendance at fundraisers, community events, or travel may be expected. Some level of bureaucracy and navigating the politics of the industry may be necessary for those in high level leadership positions.

For physicians seeking to supplement their clinical career or transition to a career in global health work, the schedule can be unpredictable depending on the term and nature of the assignment. Those serving as advisors or who take long-term assignments may have a more regular schedule and work closely with other public health and medical officials to improve health conditions.

Required Skills and Training

Some positions will prefer a degree in public health, business, or prior experience in global health.

Required skills include:

  • Management and communication skills
  • Knowledge of the population or community that the NGO serves
  • Ability to “wear many hats” or take on unassigned roles as necessary to get jobs done
  • Fluency in another language could be either required or useful for global nonprofit work

Residency, Licensure, and Training Requirements

Board certification and licensure are not necessarily required unless the position requires delivery of medical care. Although not required, many directors of NGOs hold advanced degrees such as MBAs or have experience in management, public health, or a related field.

Is This a Career for You?

Physicians who are particularly concerned with the plight of the medically underserved, are adaptable, can take on many roles as necessary, can problem solve and negotiate difficult situations, and are adventurous will likely do well in an NGO or global health environment.

Physicians that prefer the routine, working in a very structured role, and prefer quiet time alone to work may not enjoy a career in this field. Non-profits often require a great deal of teamwork, coordination, role sharing, and time and energy spent to keep them serving their populations. Those who work for NGOs or in global health positions tend to be those who work tirelessly because they enjoy the work, and not those waiting to punch the timeclock. It can quickly become a tiring position for those who do not leave work each day feeling fulfilled. Similar to medicine, burnout can occur, particularly for smaller nonprofits or organizations where the proper support may not be in place.

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