Volunteering Abroad – Is This On Your Must Do List?


I’d never worked so hard on a vacation before, but neither had I ever come home feeling so energized and inspired. In April I went to Nicaragua with a group of folks volunteering with Austin Samaritans.  You could call it a mission trip, but it was really about being of service to others.  I don’t consider myself a missionary; I just wanted to help out and learn about a new country.

The trip lasted a week and our days were an interesting mix of activities; playing with school kids who live in the local dump, teaching English, working at a safe place for women escaping prostitution, painting little casitas Pepto-Bismol pink, touring a feeding center for malnourished kids and visiting a woman’s cancer ward, to mention a few things.

The day at the dump, which is called, “La Chureca,” was surreal. Our vehicle followed trucks carrying in loads of garbage.  We drove past rows of shacks made out of black plastic tarps and corrugated metal. Over 1, 000 people eek out a living in the dump.  Off in the distance were mountains of garbage being packed down and covered with dirt.  On foot, we wound our way through narrow dirt alleys, accompanied by pigs, chickens and emaciated dogs. We visited a medical clinic in the dump.  It sounds so strange to say that, but there it was, a small, sparsely outfitted building where many of the residents were treated for the pervasive respiratory and skin ailments, as well as other conditions.

Just as out of place as the clinic was the elementary school.  Inside the school playground, kids were wearing blue and white uniforms, playing like all kids do.  Outside the school, other children roamed around the dump like wild urchins.  The school is privately funded and free, but many parents choose not to send their kids, and it seems, a lot of kids prefer to roam. Thirty minutes away from La Chureca, was our homebase for the week – Villa Esperanza.  This is an amazing home for at-risk girls who have been taken from the dump (with parental permission) in order to provide better opportunities through education and life skills training.

One evening at Villa Esperanza we were invited to a dance party with the girls who live there.  It was quite a lot of fun to dance with them and just be around giddy girl energy.  I’m embarrassed to say I would look at them and think, “they are just like any other kids their age” – as if somehow being born in a dump they should look or be different.  But they were just normal beautiful, irrepressible kids with hopes for their future like all of us.  It is the faces of all the children that I can’t forget and will call me back to Nicaragua.

Perhaps you are feeling called to travel abroad and do some service work.  Sometimes it is hard to just get the ball rolling and figure out where to go. If you are so inclined, a good place to start is to ask yourself some questions:

1. Do you prefer a mission trip or a secular volunteer trip?

2. Where would you like to go geographically?

3. Do you foresee wanting to return and have continuity with an on-going program?

4. Do you want to be able to use a second language such as Spanish?

5. Do you want to do medical or non-medical type work?

6. What is your budget and time frame?

7. Do you want to be able to bring children along?

I preferred to go someplace close to Texas, so I could go back on future trips and have continuity with projects I had become involved in. The cost of my trip for one week was $550 plus airfare. The $550 paid for my lodging, 3 meals a day and transportation.

What are some ways to find a mission or volunteer trip?

I found my trip by Goggling “Nicaragua, Volunteering and Austin.” Interesting, in the guidebook I had for Nicaragua, they had a section in each city devoted to volunteer opportunities that were available with contact information.  I had never seen this before in a guide book and thought it was a fantastic idea.

A plethora of options will come up if you Google “Physician Volunteer Opportunities. “

Here are some additional links that may be helpful:

Go Abroad

United Planet

Serve Your World

It seems like eons ago when I went to Africa as a medical student, and way too long before my next volunteer trip (to Nicaragua), but both of these experiences were life-changing for me and unforgettable. I will not wait so long to go again.  If volunteering abroad is something that you have been wanting to do, I hope this will be the year for you.

Latest Posts

Find what you're looking for:

Heather Fork


  1. Carla Oldenkamp on June 29, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    Very inspiring post Heather. I count it an honor to call you my dear friend. You are one of the few that walk the walk and continues to be a positive influence in my life and in the life of others. God Bless You ~

  2. Victoria Leat on July 3, 2012 at 12:31 am

    Thanks for this great article Heather. I run a volunteer linking service called Links for Change and we have numerous requests from our partner charities around the world for health professionals. There is a such a huge need for such skills in the developing world and it is important that this message is well heard by those who have the skills to help. Even a short period of volunteering can make a big difference to a community.

    We specifically focus on skilled placements that focus on sustainable help by ensuring that training and capacity building are key elements to all our opportunities so that volunteers can be confident that their work will have long-term benefit.

  3. Tasha C on September 11, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    Hi heather
    I’m curious . Would one be expected to meet the local medical liscence requirements , if one chooses to volunteer in clinical work abroad ?

    • Heather Fork on September 13, 2012 at 8:03 pm

      Hello Tasha,

      Thank you for your inquiry. If you already have an active medical license from the United States, this is usually sufficient for doing volunteer clinical work abroad, but it is always best to check with the hosting program. If you do not have an active medical license, you would need to check what the requirements are for that specific country. Without a license, there are often ways to assist with clinical work and be helpful. Good luck and let me know if you need further information.

Leave a Comment


"Heather’s approach was great! She would listen to me and helped me appreciate who I am."

I remember when she said ‘do your resume before our next meeting’, I was about to push back but she gently nudged me along and I’m glad I did exactly what she wanted me to do. We also did interview prep via Zoom and I was offered a great job in UM. She has continued to follow up even after I was offered this job, helping me with pointers about negotiating. I will totally recommend the Doctors Crossing and Heather to anyone feeling stuck like me and looking for a great coach! Thank you Heather!

- Modupe Oladeinde, MD

Family Medicine
Tim O

The coaching I have had with you has been life changing."

You helped me find the courage to seek out leadership positions and become a medical director as well as a physician advisor. I am grateful we crossed paths and am a different person because of it. You have inspired me to "believe" in spite of my inner skeptic. I consider you one of my most important mentors and am proud to also call you a friend. This says a lot given the apprehension I felt when I took a chance with our first coaching session. Even though I have already made a successful transition, I still value your ongoing mentorship and can enthusiastically attest that the value of your services is tremendous!

- Tim Owolabi, MD

Family Medicine
Lynette Charity

“I was at a crossroads in my medical career. I asked myself, "Do I stay or do I go?" 

I met Heather at the SEAK conference. She and I revisited this question.  Did I want to quit being medicine completely? She helped me to identify my needs, wants, and my vision for my FUTURE, not just in medicine, but in life!!!

She was able to listen to my "ramblings" about becoming a stand-up comic, lounge singer and voice-over actor and translate them into action steps.  I chose to become a composite of all of these. Now I am a more confident, healthier, happier person. I credit this in its entirety to the tutelage I have received and continue to receive from Heather.  She cares. She listens. She was there for ME.  She will be there for YOU!

- Lynette Charity, MD

Gail Miller

“I am forever grateful to Heather for helping me to recognize, I am more than just my M.D." 

Heather helped me understand that I am more than just a doctor and that my experiences in clinical medicine are valuable in so many arenas.  As a result I realized that there are other ways to use my background, still be able to help people and continue to challenge myself and grow.  To that end I discovered coaching - specifically health coaching.  I am on my journey becoming a health coach and truly loving it!

- Gail Miller, MD

OB/Gyn physician

“Thank you, Heather, for helping me transform my career, my faith and my life."

What started out as an initial thirty-minute consultation call turned into an amazing four-year journey that transformed my life, personally, spiritually and professionally. 

Heather helped me to discover my passions...by doing so, I discovered I still had a calling for medicine but it now came from a place of truth...

Today...my wife and I are opening our first concierge medicine clinic in a community we love. I’m actually excited to have the opportunity to practice medicine the way I believe it’s meant to be, with a focus on the doctor-patient relationship and an emphasis on faith. I know if I had not reached out to Dr. Fork, my life would not be where it is at today.

- Steve Lapke, MD

Papillion, NE
Sue Zimmermann

“Heather gave me the confidence to create a new livelihood by following my heart."

She is incredibly knowledgeable about the range of careers available to physicians and provided me with advice and connections which I would not have found on my own.  From the start she encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and try different things.  I was laid off unexpectedly in early 2017, and Heather gave me the confidence to create a new livelihood by following my heart and making decisions based on trust, not fear.  Now I am enjoying working part-time in a clinical setting in addition to teaching and writing.

- Sue Zimmermann, MD

Orthopedic Surgeon
Devki Patel

After months of struggling to find a non-clinical career that matched my values and passion, I stumbled upon Heather's website which truly changed my life."

Heather's insightful and personalized approach to career coaching made me think outside the box since she took the time to evaluate my personality, values, interests, and preferred lifestyle.

Through her encouragement, practical advice, and professional connections, I was able to find a non-clinical position at a state Medicaid agency that aligned with my passion for population health and serving low-income communities. In addition to her coaching sessions, Heather has built a community of like-minded physicians through her blog, and I feel honored to recommend her to friends and colleagues who seek to make positive changes in their professional and personal lives.

- Devki Patel, MD

Jay Macregor

Working with Heather ultimately helped me leave my job in corporate healthcare and find a path that was much more fulfilling."

My career was going reasonably well but I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling I could do better; or at least find a better long-term career fit.  

I was able to find a surgery job that better aligned with my goals and professional interests.  Additionally, Heather helped me start a consulting business which has allowed me to pursue a true passion: helping medical students, residents, and attendings surgeons navigate the challenges of high-stakes standardized exams.    

If you are reading this as a “Type A” surgeon who doesn’t think coaching is for you, I would encourage you to give Heather a shot.  I’m very glad I did!

- Jay MacGregor, MD

Colorectal Surgeon

“I gained the confidence in myself to develop an action plan that blended the best parts of my experiences and interests into a cohesive career." 

Through our work, I learned to trust myself to make good decisions for my own future – something I hadn’t realized I was struggling with because as an emergency physician, I make life-changing decisions with patients every day. 

By feeding my creativity and interests in other realms of my professional life, I’ve found renewed compassion for my patients and myself, making every shift an opportunity to actually care for people. Thank you Heather. I really couldn’t have made these changes without your help!

- Liz McMurtry, DO

Emergency Medicine Physician

The simple truth is - Heather Fork totally helped me change my life."

I never would have had the courage to make the changes I’ve made without her unwavering support, wealth of knowledge and commitment. 

When I first started working with Heather, I was downtrodden...I’d been practicing medicine for 20+ years and yet had never quite found my place.  During the first year I worked with Heather, I left the practice I’d been working at, and recreated an entirely new professional purpose.

I’m now an executive and leadership coach, a university professor, and a Brené Brown Daring Way facilitator, and I have never looked back.  I love what I am doing more than at any other time in my professional life and I credit Heather with seeing in me what I was never able to see in myself, until now.

Don’t hesitate, don’t doubt yourself, schedule your time with Heather as soon as possible- she can help you reconnect to your purpose and reinvent your life.

- Amie Langbein, DO

Family Physician
KB Karen Barnard Photo

"After 30 years in academic medicine, I wanted a career change but had no idea where to start. Medicine was all I knew."

I signed up for coaching with Heather and it transformed my life. She helped me get clear on what I wanted my life to look like. We reviewed my skills, values, and strengths. She instilled hope in me that change IS possible after 50 years! 

The outcome is that I have created a life I love! I practice endocrinology part-time and own a life coaching business! Coaching with Heather is one of the best investments I have made in my life. 

- Karen Barnard, MBBCh, MPH

Endocrinologist and Life Coach

"Heather was my source of hope during a time when I felt stuck and confused. She gave me the permission and confidence to reach higher than I believed I could."

After graduating from residency and starting a family, I lost sight of why I became a physician. I struggled to convince myself to stay in a career that was clearly the wrong fit for me and my family. My anxiety about work was at an all-time high when I reached out to Heather. She provided something that my mentors, friends, and family could not – rather than just offering career advice, she changed the way I think about my life so that I could understand how my career would fit into it. I realized I wasn’t ready to give up on medicine and eventually found a job in academic medicine. I finally feel that excitement for medicine that I used to feel when I was in training. More importantly, I feel like I can be the role model to my young daughter who may one day also face similar challenges between career and family. Thank you, Heather, for all your kindness, support, and skillful coaching! The experience was life-changing!

- Yuri Shindo, MD

Internal Medicine Physician
Camille Gardner-Beasley

"As a Physician, your personal and even professional needs are often overlooked. I learned how to prioritize my career goals by working with Dr. Heather Fork."

She taught me how to put into practice what I knew in theory, that taking care of myself was a priority. I learned to give myself permission to make the career choices that would give me the work-life balance I desperately craved and needed. The process of confronting fears and insecurities was a bit scary, but well worth it in the end. I am now a happier version of myself with a non-clinical job that I truly enjoy!

- Camille Gardner-Beasley, MD

Family Medicine
Anna testimonial

"After 10 years in outpatient family medicine I felt stuck and knew I needed a change but I didn’t know where to begin. Thankfully I found Heather and she guided me every step of the way."

She helped me carefully assess my interests, strengths and passions while also providing me with constructive changes to implement in my job search and resume. With Heather’s help, I just landed a fully remote UM position and I am also exploring coaching as well. Now I feel like the possibilities are endless and I’m excited for this next chapter in the nonclinical world! Thank you Heather for changing my life for the better.

- Ana Jacobellis, DO


"I'm truly thankful to have had the opportunity to be coached by Heather, she is not only a resourceful mentor but a wise and supportive friend. I'm honored to recommend Heather to all my friends and colleagues."

I had been a practicing Internist for 20 years when I reached a point when I needed to make a serious change in my career path. While I enjoyed seeing patients, I was not satisfied with my life-work balance. My job was taking me away from my family and left me little time and energy to do other things that are important and meaningful to me. I came across Dr. Fork's podcast; The Doctor's Crossing Carpe Diem Podcast, it is such an informative and enjoyable podcast for any physician who wants to do more with their career and life in general. Then I had the pleasure to get career coaching from Heather, it was truly an amazing experience. Heather has broad knowledge of all the different career paths that are available for physicians, she is so insightful and very easy to talk to. She helped me clarify my goals, examine my own mindset and definition of success. Together we developed a clear plan and actionable steps to reach these goals. I eventually made a career transition to a remote non-clinical position that allows me to do meaningful work which aligns with my personal and professional goals and priorities.

- Abbey Awad, MD

Internal Medicine