Self Reflection – Is MSF for you?
MSF is often associated with images of doctors risking their lives while performing war surgery in dangerous contexts. Providing healthcare to populations in complex emergencies is undoubtedly challenging. But it may not always be as spectacular and heroic as people imagine.
Before you fill in an application to work overseas with MSF, please take time to reflect on the reasons why you are making this important decision. Do you have romanticized notions of what this work entails or are you making an informed choice? Are your motivations and values a good match for the activities and mandate of MSF?
You should be aware of issues MSF workers often face in the field, with respect to working and living in unfamiliar environments under extremely difficult and stressful conditions.
MSF strives to provide access to healthcare for the most vulnerable populations in places where:
MSF is looking for mature field workers with professional skills, who are able to perform in stressful environments. They should be flexible and easily adapt to different cultures and living conditions.
Staff security is top priority for MSF. You may live and work in insecure environments where your life may be in danger. Security briefings, plans, guidelines and protocols have been designed to manage risks and are part of every project.
Field workers must realize they represent MSF 24 hours a day, 7 days a week while on mission, even during non-working hours and vacation time. Team members are responsible for protecting their own security and the security of the team.
MSF safety regulations may restrict your freedom of movement or your ability to interact with local populations outside the stipulated working hours. You may have curfews imposed and required to remain in the MSF compound when your workday is over. Consider these possibilities if you enjoy going out regularly or if you have difficulty being confined to the same place for long periods of time.
Going overseas with MSF will require you to adjust to unfamiliar food, living quarters, pace of life, forms of entertainment, languages and companions. It will be a different lifestyle in which your privacy and leisure time may be reduced. You may not have a private bathroom and may not be able to practice your favorite sports for the duration of your mission.
MSF projects can be located in places with severe weather conditions (i.e. extreme heat or cold, high humidity and heavy rains or dry desert conditions). You could be living in a mud hut or a tent with no fan or air conditioning, having to tolerate annoying insects, and forced to cope with limited electricity and poor choice of foods for months at a time.
Conversely, you might live in a spacious house enjoying some familiar luxuries, even staffed with cooks and cleaners, while the people you are assisting try to survive under the most basic conditions. It can be difficult for some people to live with this paradox.
Humanitarian work in emergency contexts can be highly stressful. A wide range of issues can cause stress and drain your motivation – strained relations with teammate, health problems, lack of communication with your family and friends back home, insecurity, frequent changes in the project, difficulties with local authorities, poor living conditions and diet.
Think about the way you handle stress in your daily life and be honest with yourself. If you fear problems and seek to avoid them at all costs, then MSF is definitely not for you. Being part of a field team requires you to always be in a problem-solving state of mind.
Consider the following:
How would you feel living and working in teams of 3 to 10 people for extended periods?
Can you put aside personal issues in order to complete your work?
What causes you stress and how do you cope with it in a team environment?
Are you a good communicator and facilitator?
Going overseas requires leaving your loved ones behind for lengthy periods, usually between 6 to 12 months (shorter periods for surgical related profiles). Some people see humanitarian aid work as a way to heal or escape from difficult personal situations. This is never a good idea. Give some thought to the impact of putting your personal life in your home country on hold while you are on mission.
Also consider the impact of working in a difficult environment on your state of mind. Leaving for a mission may be exciting, but returning from a field assignment during which you may have witnessed traumatic events can be difficult for you and your family. How would you reintegrate in your home society?
Working amidst unfamiliar cultures inevitably involves miscommunications and misperceptions. You may be in a country where people have different understanding of issues like punctuality at work, responsible behavior or respect for personal space.
Being tolerant of people who do not act or think like you is of utmost importance. Reflect on your capacity to live closely with, and show respect to, people with beliefs and cultures that differ from yours.
The issues mentioned above are meant to be a reality check on what working in foreign environments sometimes entail. Please give it some serious thought. Thousands have worked for MSF over the years and have found their experiences to be both challenging and rewarding. For many, going on a mission with MSF has been a life changing event.
Working for MSF is about making a gesture rather than just seeking adventure or wanting a job. By becoming a field worker, you are acting in solidarity with populations in need. Your presence alongside these men, women and children in times of trouble sends a deeply meaningful message to them: ‘You have not been forgotten’
Please consider the following criteria for working with MSF:
We now urge you to proceed in commencing your application process at your earliest convenience by our online application system.
Should you need further clarifications or encounter problems while applying online, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Field Human Resources department at +852 2959 4232