Nonclinical skilled volunteering and pro bono work for medical professionals

Sep 24, 2018

Maybe you haven’t done volunteering work since trying to pad your medical school application. Perhaps you’ve volunteered your time to a couple of nonprofits, but haven’t thought much about how it truly aligns with your professional goals. Or you want to volunteer your skills, but don’t have the inclination to take a medical missions trip to a developing country. This article is for you. There are many worthwhile options for nonclinical, skilled volunteering as a doctor. 

Strategically apply your medical expertise through skilled volunteering

Using your medical skills and knowledge in a setting sans compensation has a number of benefits in addition to helping others or improving human life:

  • You will acquire additional experience and knowledge
  • You will improve and strengthen your existing skill set
  • You will broaden your professional network
  • You will gain exposure for your business or your expertise

Of course, remember that volunteering is altruistic at its core. It should be done without the expectation of any gain – monetary or otherwise. So these rewards should be thought of as a bonus rather than a reason that you do the work.

4 avenues for nonclinical skilled volunteering as a medical professional

Here are some great ways to use your professional knowledge and expertise that don’t involve treating patients.

Volunteering your time to a health-related non-profit

Highly educated people sometimes feel like traditional volunteering opportunities aren’t the best use of their skills. One could argue that a medical professional can do more “good” in an hour by than spreading drywall with Habitat for Humanity. But with careful selection of volunteering positions, this can easily be addressed.

Intentionally choosing non-profit organizations and service projects that take advantage of your professional skills can be a win-win for both the non-profit and for you personally. It also can be a chance to use medically-related skills that you may not get to use regularly at your current job.

Pro bono work

Pro bono work, on the other hand, involves doing work that you’d normally do as part of your regular business, but offering it at no cost to the client. This gives non-profits access to the experience and knowledge of a medical professional that they may not otherwise have if they needed to pay for the services.

Pro bono is historically a lawyer term, but certainly makes sense for a physician with a small consulting business. The work is done on your company’s time and resources and can add significant value to your business through testimonials, exposure, and the like.

What really sets pro bono work apart from traditional skilled volunteering is that it’s no different than the work you’d do for normal compensation. If you have your own business and love what you do, pro bono opportunities can be a smart approach to growing your company.

Joining a non-profit board of directors

Serving on a board for a health-related non-profit is a means of volunteering your time without getting involved with the day-to-day operations of the organization. You’ll be involved in decision-making related to ethics, legal issues, financial management, and oversight of big decisions.

If you feel strongly about an organization’s mission and want to play a role in shaping how they carry out that mission, board service can be a great way to use your skills as a healthcare professional.

While the time requirements can sometimes be minimal, the responsibility assumed by board members is not. Do your due diligence about the organization before you join and minimize any risks to you personally (see the tips below) before you commit to a board of directors. Ensure that you can do the job without conflict of interest.

Serving your professional or local community

Your specialty society or other professional association likely has plentiful opportunities for members to volunteer their time. This can range from tasks as simple as reviewing a position statement to as complex as serving a several-year term on a board of censors, directors, or trustees.

Becoming involved with a professional organization through volunteer work is a great way to make your presence known within your field, while simultaneously molding and advancing the field.

On a local or regional level, skilled volunteering provides a way for you to improve your own community. These opportunities can take the form of joining the county board of health, actively participating in your state’s medical society, or working with local chapters of national nonprofits.

Making the Most of Professional Volunteer Opportunities

These are a few tips to make skilled volunteering advantageous for you and the people you’re serving.

  1. Do it STRATEGICALLY. Participate in volunteering activities that help to further your career goals. Your effort should align with your professional priorities. In other words, don’t do it simply because you were asked to. And stop doing it when it becomes a chore.
  2. Understand the MISSION of the organization. Your own values should align with theirs. This includes the population they serve, the processes they use, and the way they present themselves to the public.
  3. Form new RELATIONSHIPS. Every pro bono pursuit will leave you with fresh professional connections. Follow up on offers to contact them. Don’t hesitate to ask for a letter of recommendation or a testimonial. I did some work with a small health nonprofit as a resident, and the CEO wrote me the most glowing letter of recommendation I’ve ever received. I still keep her cell phone number on hand.
  4. Consider the RISKS. Working as a medical professional carries risk. This is true not just when we’re treating patients. Examine whether insurance is appropriate for the activity – such as a directors and officers insurance or errors and omissions insurance.
  5. Acknowledge the organization’s LIMITATIONS. When considering an opportunity, learn about the company’s resources and infrastructure as they relate to volunteering efforts. Not every organization has the ability (or even the desire) to support skilled volunteers. Don’t take this personally, but do let it influence how you serve them.

So go out and use your professional skills and expertise for the better good! …Or don’t. Perhaps you cannot or simply don’t want to volunteer your time professionally. There’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe you’d rather make monetary donations or serve meals at a shelter with your kids. Those options are equally great. 

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