The personal impact of involvement in international global health outreach: A national survey of former Operation Smile student volunteers



      Humanitarian surgical organizations such as Operation Smile provide global health opportunities for students and medical trainees. Prior studies have shown a positive benefit for medical trainees. This study aimed to determine if the international global health experiences of young student volunteers impact their career choices as adults.


      A survey was sent to adults who were involved with Operation Smile as students. The survey elicited information about their mission trip experience, education, career, and current volunteer and leadership activities. Data were summarized with descriptive statistics and qualitative analysis.


      114 prior volunteers responded. The majority participated in leadership conferences (n=110), mission trips (n=109), and student clubs (n=101) while in high school. Many graduated from college (n=113, 99%) and completed post-graduate degrees (n=47, 41%). The most highly represented occupational industry was healthcare (n=30, 26%), including physicians and medical trainees (n=9), dentists (n=5), and other healthcare providers (n=5). Three-fourths reported that their volunteer experience impacted their career choice, and half reported that their experience allowed them to connect with career mentors. Their experience was associated with the development of leadership skills, including public speaking, self-confidence, and empathy, and increased awareness of cleft conditions, health disparities, and other cultures. Ninety-six percent continued to volunteer. Narrative responses revealed that the volunteer experiences impacted their inter- and intrapersonal development into adulthood.


      Participation in a global health organization as a student may encourage a long-term commitment to leadership and volunteerism and foster interest in a healthcare career. These opportunities also encourage development of cultural competency and interpersonal skills.

      Level of Evidence

      III, Cross-Sectional Study.


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