Journal of Community Health

, Volume 38, Issue 2, pp 374–384 | Cite as

Promoting Volunteerism in Global Health: Lessons from a Medical Mission in Northern Mexico

  • Mellissa WithersEmail author
  • Carole H. Browner
  • Tara Aghaloo
Original Paper


The challenges of meeting global health care needs in communities throughout the developing world are becoming increasingly complex. Understanding what motivates volunteers is important for organizations that seek to harness and develop long-term volunteers in order to meet the need for global health care services. Here we report a case study of a successful volunteer clinic that has provided medical, dental and surgical services to under-served residents of northern Mexico for more than 20 years. Our objective was to understand what promotes sustained volunteerism. Thirty semi-structured interviews were conducted with students, residents, nurses, dentists, oral surgeons and community volunteers, in addition to four full days of participant observation. We analysed volunteers’ experiences with a real-life global medical mission and offer recommendations. Motivating factors included psychological and emotional rewards, career-related benefits, opportunities for interpersonal interaction, the opportunity to serve disadvantaged communities and personal relevance of the mission. We demonstrate the paramount importance of volunteer-patient interaction, having a dedicated facilitator to recruit and pave the way for first-time volunteers and the value of using multiple recruitment strategies. Most important, we show that organizations must focus on facilitating first-time volunteers’ experiences, particularly by ensuring that they are given specific roles and responsibilities, one of the best predictors of volunteer satisfaction and sustained volunteerism.


Volunteer Medical missions Dental missions Surgical missions Cleft lip and palate Global health Under-served communities 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mellissa Withers
    • 1
    Email author
  • Carole H. Browner
    • 2
  • Tara Aghaloo
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.School of DentistryUniversity of California, Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Department of Anthropology and Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human BehaviorUCLALos AngelesUSA
  3. 3.Department of Den-Oral SurgeryUCLALos AngelesUSA

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