IPSL’s Medical Volunteering Ethics Policy:
In the international education, service-learning and volunteering fields there is
much discussion around whether or not medical service and volunteering can be
ethical. Students and volunteers will find that many reputable western international
education organizations will promote standards that severely limit activities when it
comes to medical service and volunteering. IPSL respects these standards and
encourages their students to take note of the current ethical standards and
The highest priority for IPSL when placing students in any service setting –
including medical settings - is safety and security. Immediately after that priority is
IPSL’s commitment to acknowledging and respecting the needs, desires, and wishes
of the local community and the local organizations and individuals with whom the
students are serving. IPSL works diligently to promote equity and mutually
beneficial partnerships in all of our partnerships. Therefore, IPSL encourages
students to engage in this important conversation around what is ethical in medical
service and volunteering.
Students are responsible for keeping the following in mind when engaging in
medical service and volunteering:
• Students must always keep the welfare of the patient foremost in mind, not
the perceived opportunity for proving yourself. Recognizing patient
autonomy is one of the core values of medical ethics; it is particularly
important to honor in communities with limited resources, where all patients
must be given the choice whether or not to have trainees involved in their
• Every act of service involves the building of a cultural bridge. Students
should bring knowledge of the history and culture of the community they will
serve, respect for cultural differences, a listening and learning attitude, and
behaviors that will enable ethical and effective service. Health care
professionals in the country being served will likely have a deep
understanding of local health care issues, resources and challenges. Be
sensitive to the concerns of the local health care team and seek to understand
the perspective of the patients you are serving. Recognize and respect
divergent diagnostic and treatment paradigms.
• It is appropriate for students to provide preventive health education and to
support the health care team by assisting in the provision of health treatment
after receiving adequate instruction. However, students should never engage
in any unsupervised activity that is considered the practice of medicine.
IPSL is responsible for adequately addressing the following in order to provide
ethical medical service placements for their students. IPSL will ensure that:
• The local community’s needs, desires, wishes, and voice and heard, respected
and adhered to by all IPSL staff and students.
• The burden to the host community and organization is as minimized as
possible and that there is no instance of global health training that benefits
the trainee at the cost of the host.
• The local community, local organization, and individuals the students are
interacting with are aware of the level of training and experience of each
student so that appropriate activities are assigned and patient care and
community well-being is not compromised.
• All IPSL staff, students and partners are aware and respectful of the
differences in norms of professionalism (Local and Sending), Standards of
Practice (Local and Sending) and Diagnostic and Treatment Paradigms.
• As an organization IPSL and IPSL students are engaging with existing
healthcare and public health organizations and are not ignoring, displacing,
disregarding or circumventing those organizations and professionals by
providing experiences outside of those systems.
• IPSL Students are educated to understand the local culture that influences
the healthcare and public health of the community and that students are
prepared to function professionally and interact appropriately with local
practitioners and community members.