2017, Journalistic Reporting

Beyond Good Intentions: Why Attitudes Matter on International Medical Service Trips


The volunteer abroad industry has rapidly expanded in recent years, with some estimating the net worth of the industry to be upwards of $173 billion a year (The Wilson Quarterly). With tens of thousands of volunteers, including thousands of pre-health college students, volunteering abroad a year, it is important to be aware of the ethical impacts of the ever-growing field of “voluntourism”.

In this brief editorial, I advocate that pre-health students ought to adopt an attitudes-based framework to discern if an international medical service trip is ethically permissible. After a reflection of my own experience as an international volunteer, I examine the ways in which international medical service trips benefit and harm volunteers and community members. I argue that the qualities of “excellence” and “humility” are crucial for students to consider when searching for an international medical service trip, if they decide to participate on one. I include an framework of some questions students should ask when evaluating international medical service trips.


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