The rigorous demands of medical school are well documented, and after years of academia, lectures and internships, many aspiring doctors are happy to flee the stringent confines of the Ivory Tower. But after you have that medical degree framed on the wall of your study, where do you go and what do you do?

The aging baby boomer generation and new healthcare reforms have intensified the shortage of doctors and nurses in the United States. In March 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that one out every five new jobs created this year would be in the healthcare profession. However, many doctors who’ve just finished a grueling tenure in medical school don’t want to immediately jump into a conventional career; they’d rather spend a gap year traveling, volunteering and helping with humanitarian aid, both domestically and abroad.

Beyond Doctors Without Borders

While Doctors Without Borders is a globally recognized volunteer organization, it’s not the only iron in the fire (or is that stethoscope in a country doctors’ black bag?). Idioms aside, if you’re a doctor who’s recently graduated from medical school, there are alternatives to Doctors Without Borders. Projects Abroad, AmeriCares and UNICEF are other volunteer organizations you might enjoy. However, before you exchange your hospital-issued scrubs for a more off-the-beaten-path attire, be sure you have a passport and working visa as well as a study abroad insurance policy for graduates. Even doctors have been known to get sick or break a leg in the field.

Projects Abroad

Projects Abroad volunteers in 16 different countries, and the regions it covers are less dangerous to volunteers than the war-torn and unstable areas covered by Doctors Without Borders. With Projects Abroad, experience isn’t mandatory; whether you’re in high school, an undergraduate interested in medicine or a doctor, anyone with a reference who’s over 16 can volunteer. This type of flexibility is especially attractive to people who’ve never volunteered before. There’s also a support staff on hand 24 hours a day, so you’ll never be left alone to fend for yourself during difficult situations.

AmeriCares and UNICEF

There are fewer opportunities with organizations like AmeriCares and UNICEF, but they still accept volunteers. AmeriCares gives humanitarian aid to people is crisis situations around the U.S. and abroad, and volunteers typically work as part of emergency response teams, or help run free medical clinics. UNICEF (United Nations Children Fund) focuses on the rights, health and protection of children around the world. In order to become a volunteer in either one of these agencies, you need to have experience and at least a Bachelor of Arts degree.

A Traveling Nurse

Becoming a traveling nurse is another option. While it’s not a volunteer job, most traveling nurses work per diem. In other words, if there’s a medical emergency in Haiti, you’d be sent there to work on a two or three month assignment. When that job is finished, you’d then have the opportunity, if you wanted, to travel to another location. Nurses enjoy the flexibility this position offers.

After medical school, nobody says you need to follow the traditional career blueprint. If the Bureau of Labor Statistics is right, American healthcare jobs aren’t going anywhere. Your medical degree, however, is a passport to help people around the world.

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