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How Canadian doctors can volunteer to help in Haiti

Reading the terrible stories and seeing the horrific photos from Haiti in the aftermath of the January 12 earthquake has inspired some Canadian doctors to consider donating more than just money: many want to travel to Haiti and put their medical expertise to use. How to go about doing that, however, is not simple. To help you figure it out, we spoke to some aid agencies to learn how Canadian physicians can volunteer to help in Haiti.

Médecins sans frontières (Doctors Without Borders): MSF may be the first aid organization that comes to mind but, partly because of its high profile, MSF has a large contingent of experienced physicians who’ve already been sent to Haiti. That doesn’t mean, however, that your offer to volunteer isn’t welcome. In fact, MSF is compiling a database of Canadian medical professionals who are available to help in Haiti.

They are looking for French- or Creole-speaking doctors (particularly orthopedic surgeons) with some international experience and a minimum of four weeks available. Shorter deployments aren’t possible. MSF is also looking to reestablish a free obstetrics clinic it ran in Haiti prior to the quake, for which it will need French-speaking ob/gyns.

But even if you don’t meet MSF’s criteria for deployment at the moment, you’re encouraged nevertheless to sign on to help out in the future, since MSF anticipates being in Haiti for years and years to come. “You don’t have to be there when Anderson Cooper's there,” Ben Chapman, the organization’s director of human resources in Canada, says. “We will still need people there when the journalists have gone away.” (800) 982-7903;

Partners in Health: This Boston-based medical aid organization is one of the most respected aid organizations in Haiti. And just because they’re an American outfit doesn’t mean they won’t take Canadians. They will. Eagerly.

In fact, Canadians may be at an advantage securing a spot with PIH compared to Americans, since the organization is currently only accepting French-speaking physicians to travel to Haiti – and preferably Creole-speaking, though that is not required.

Their urgent needs at the moment include orthopedic surgeons, but other specialists are in demand, and PIH’s long-term needs will include physicians of all kinds. At the moment, PIH asks that volunteers commit to a minimum of 10 days in Haiti. Volunteers who sign on now likely wouldn’t be deployed until anywhere up to a month from now. (617) 432-5256; http://standwithhaiti.org/haiti/news-entry/update-on-volunteer-request/

Médecins du monde: The Canadian branch of this organization has put out an urgent call for physician volunteers to travel to Haiti. They are currently looking for French- or Creole-speaking GPs, emergency physicians and general surgeons to work there for a minimum of two weeks. (514) 281-8998;

The UK office has also posted a request for volunteers at

Canadian Red Cross: The Canadian Red Cross does not send volunteer physicians to Haiti. If doctors want to work with the Canadian Red Cross there, they must apply to become a medical delegate and, after a week-long training course, could be placed on a emergency-respond rapid deployment team.

For more international volunteer listings, visit ReliefWeb’s Haiti vacancies page at


This article was originally published by Doctor's Review magazine. to read more from Doctor's Review about medical volunteering.


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IN THE NEWS: Is fee-for-service billing outdated?

Is fee-for-service billing outdated?
In a new "Mythbusters" entry, the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation dismisses the notion that most Canadian doctors prefer to be paid fee-for-service. The foundation's analysis points to blended models of remuneration -- incorporating salaried work, capitation and some fee-for-service payments -- as the future of physicians' income. [CHSRF]

Patients get email advice
The Canadian Medical Association typically gives advice to its members: doctors. But it's branched out a bit with a new project to give guidance to patients on how best to communicate with their doctors via email. Among the pieces of advice are: keep it short, be clear, don't send attachments without permission, and "do not discuss more than one subject per email."

IN THE NEWS: Government loses appeal to close Insite

Government loses appeal to close Insite
The BC Court of Appeal rejected the federal government's appeal of a lower court's decision that Ottawa has no power to shut down the Vancouver supervised-injection site Insite.

The judges' reasoning relied on a complex and sure-to-be-divisive argument about weighing provincial jurisdiction over health matters versus federal jurisdiction over law enforcement.

The federal government has not yet said whether or not it will appeal to the BC Supreme Court.

New Alberta health minister jumps into action
Gene Zwozdesky was selected to replace Rockin' Ron Liepert as Alberta's health minister in a recent cabinet shuffle, and Mr Zwozdesky has not hesitated in getting involved in the province's healthcare disputes.

He quickly ordered planned bed closures halted [CTV News] and made comments that prompted speculation he might dismiss Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett, though the new minister denied that he planned to do so.

Mr Liepert has been assigned to head the energy ministry -- certainly not a demotion from the health portfolio -- so it's unlikely that Mr Liepert's approach to health systems management is being repudiated in this cabinet shuffle.

MORE NEWS FROM ACROSS CANADA

  • An Alberta government commission report suggested revising the province's Health Act to protect patients' rights. The report included some obliquely coded language about privatizing services, but members of the commission claimed the suggested revisions still conform to the Canada Health Act.
  • Last month, a non-doctor was elected president of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta for the first time ever. "Having a public member as president sends the signal that we act on behalf of the public," said registrar Dr Trevor Theman. The Calgary Herald wrote that it may be the first time a non-doctor was elected to head any province's medical regulatory body.
  • The licence approving the weight-loss drug sibutramine was suspended in the UK over concerns about dangerous cardiovascular side effects, and new warnings were added to the drug in the United States. Sibutramine is still available in Canada, where it is sold as Meridia and Apo-Sibutramine. A Health Canada review investigating cardiovascular side effects in 2003 declared the drug safe for use. [Health Canada review]

Photo: Vancouver Coastal Health