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Working and Volunteering Overseas

Volunteering and working overseas can be rewarding experiences. Find out how you can start your journey to ophthalmology overseas.

Many of our UK members are working on a temporary basis, some on a volunteering basis, internationally. They may require advice and support from the College in a number of different ways and promoting engagement is an important aspect of our International strategy.

Volunteering and working overseas can be rewarding experiences. Working with new partners, organisations and individuals in new locations and clinical settings gives you a sense of achievement and helps you develop new skills, learning and life-time friendships.

Not only are you contributing to practice in ophthalmology overseas, but also learning to appreciate practice in the UK and helping you vitalise and sustain a career that could last for 35 years.

Continuing Professional Development

Those working and volunteering abroad who wish to return to the UK will need information about revalidation and retention of a licence to practice. They may also need advice regarding the policies and potential barriers about returning to work in the UK.  Online CPD can be organised by RCOphth, please contact [email protected].

Two routes to volunteering and working abroad

There are primarily two ways to prepare for volunteering and working abroad:

  1. Through linking with organisations/institutions
  2. By charting your way as an individual.

What’s important is to be clear about why you want to do it, whether it is about making an impact by supporting communities in developing countries with additional skills and expertise, or you just wish for a change of lifestyle and scenery and the experience of working abroad in another country.

Choose a country, region or culture you are drawn to, or have a personal interest in. A good place to start is by organising an exchange planning visit:

  • Find someone who knows both UK and overseas parties to help you facilitate your trip
  • Make sure there is a pre-arranged timetable with contact names and telephone/mobile numbers ahead of the trip
  • Listen and learn, taking notes at meetings. Writing down everyone’s full names. A report is often needed for a funder; try and write it on the way home while everything is fresh. Take good photos – get permission first!
  • Follow up with an exchange visit to the UK; making time to be a good host
  • Develop a three-year activity plan and memorandum of understanding (MoU)
  • Raise funds to carry out the agreed activities.

Whatever you chose to do, you can be certain that there will be personal and professional benefits for both overseas and UK colleagues, their institutions and importantly the patients.

Visit the same place on repeated trips with an aim of developing relationships.

Institution to Institution volunteering

By working with recognised organisations or programmes, you have the benefit of a more structured process and identified countries where support and training is welcomed.

A link programme (institution to institution) benefits the UK institution by offering staff development and job satisfaction through ‘hands on’ work in a developing country, improving teaching skills, morale and increasing the status of the UK partner as an instrument for change in global eye care.

VISION 2020 LINKS Programme

The VISION 2020 LINKS Programme is managed by the International Centre of Eye Health and works with overseas institutions like the College of Ophthalmology of Eastern, Central and Southern Africa (COECSA). Being part of an organised hospital to hospital partnership means that a proven process can be followed but you will need support from your trust.

When using a LINKS programme you can:

  • Prepare your case for volunteering/working abroad as you will need trust senior management support
  • Ensure you have a committed team and co-ordinator
  • Think about a start-up fund
  • Read up on the country, its health system and your partner institution
  • Carry out a needs’ assessment and priority objectives with your partner institution
  • Work out your aims and objectives in collaboration with the partner institution
  • Arrange an exchange planning visit well in advance.

Individual volunteering and working abroad

There’s never a perfect time to do it and there are all sorts of reasons to put it off like your career in the UK, family or finances. If you are going it alone, you should prepare and plan well in advance.

As an individual volunteer, you can:

  • Speak with like-minded people, including senior management in your hospital
  • Share your aims, motivation and commitment
  • Find a potential overseas partner through personal contacts, V2020 LINKS Programme or THET
  • Use the readily available information from these organisations as there are tried and trusted methods of getting the process started. It will help make your trip a success and avoid pitfalls.
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Eye to Eye Podcast

Listen to 'The Arclight Project – Frugal, Disruptive Eye Care Engineering'. In this episode, we speak with Andrew Blaikie about his journey into international Ophthalmology and humanitarian work, including the development of Arclight, a low-cost direct ophthalmoscope used all over the world.

Listen now