By Dr. Noelle Sullivan, Assistant Professor of Instruction, Global Health Studies and Anthropology, Northwestern University
On Feb. 16, 18-year old Malachi Love-Robinson was arrested for posing as a doctor in West Palm Beach. Practicing medicine without a license is a third-degree felony in Florida. Yet, were Love-Robinson to fly to Tanzania, Cambodia, Bolivia, Honduras, Senegal, Nepal or any other so-called "developing country," not only would he be able to practice medicine without a license; his actions would be celebrated.
An expanding and highly lucrative industry has sprung up around international "voluntourism." Placements in health facilities are popular. It is mostly health professions students, or aspiring professionals like Love-Robinson who pay companies to do these trips. Websites say anyone can offer "first-rate health care to people who usually don't have the regular opportunity to see a doctor." As a foreigner and a volunteer, regardless of training, you provide "more than hope" by virtue of who you are.
Poor countries are depicted as having few locals with good ideas and a commitment to assist with the pressing problems there. In such places, "any help is better than no help at all." Nothing could be further from the truth. Worldwide, foreigners crowd health facilities and orphanages, despite concerned reports and campaigns about problematic ethics of both types of volunteering and the harms that volunteers could unwittingly cause. Read more.