Health Volunteers Overseas
|Type||Humanitarian Health Aid|
|Focus||Global Health, Health Human Resources, Healthcare|
|Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and Oceania|
|Method||Education and Training|
Board Chair: Jody Olsen, PhD, MSW
Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO) is a Washington, DC-based nonprofit dedicated to improving the availability and quality of healthcare through the education, training and professional development of the health workforce in resource-scarce countries.
The idea for the organization was sparked by an article by Dr. Ralph Crawshaw, published in the December 1984 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. In the article, Dr. Crawshaw urged fellow medical practitioners to "make a substantial difference to your colleagues in developing countries" and cited the example of Orthopaedics Overseas. In 1986, the Orthopaedics Overseas Board of Directors voted to become the first division of the newly created Health Volunteers Overseas. Two anesthesiologists went to Ethiopia for the first HVO volunteer trip later that year.
Since opening its doors in Washington, D.C. in 1986, HVO volunteers have completed more than 10,000 short-term assignments in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, and Oceania. Volunteers are drawn from the fields of anesthesia, dermatology, hematology, internal medicine, nursing education, oncology, oral health, orthopaedics, pediatrics, physical therapy, wound and lymphedemia management, emergency medicine, mental health, and pharmacology.
What problem is HVO addressing?
The delivery of health care services in any country is dependent on a trained cadre of health care professionals. The well-documented global shortage of health care providers  disproportionately impacts resource-scarce countries. Faced with serious resource constraints, as well as an immense burden of disease, these countries are faced with enormous needs in the health care sector but have limited capacity to educate and support the workforce necessary to meet these needs. As a result, not enough health care professionals are trained, few are offered the opportunity for continued professional education and growth, and most work in isolation with little chance to learn from nearby colleagues. The Global Health Workforce Alliance of the World Health Organization reports a global shortage of more the 7.2 million health workers – a figure that will grow to 12.9 million by the year 2035.
HVO is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors representing a diverse background of experience and professions. There are more than 185 health care professionals serving in a variety of leadership positions with HVO, providing the framework for managing HVO’s extensive portfolio of projects. A staff of thirteen is under the management of the Executive Director. HVO’s total expenses in 2015 were $1.5 million; about 83% of all expenses are program-related. The organization has $3.25 million in net assets.
HVO is a Gold Participant in the GuideStar Exchange, highlighting their commitment to transparency,  and the organization meets the 20 charity standards of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance.
A unique aspect of HVO’s organizational model is the involvement and support provided by leading American professional health care associations. These associations, with the year in which they first became a sponsor, are as follows:
ADA Foundation (1990)
American Academy of Dermatology (2002)
American Academy of Neurology (2014)
American Academy of Pediatrics (1993)
American Association for Hand Surgery (2013)
American Association of Colleges of Nursing (1999)
American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (1987)
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2016)
American College of Physicians (1988)
American Foundation for Surgery of the Hand (1999)
American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society (2004)
American Physical Therapy Association (1995)
American Society of Clinical Oncology (2007)
American Society of Hematology (2007)
Association for the Advancement of Wound Care (2006)
Oncology Nursing Society (2017)
Society for Surgical Oncology (2017)
Society for Gynecologic Oncology (2011)
All HVO volunteers are trained, licensed health care professionals who are screened by similarly skilled project directors to ensure that their skills and expertise are appropriate to a particular site. Volunteers work alongside their colleagues in resource-scarce countries, providing new insights and techniques. They introduce new teaching methodologies, update or create teaching curricula, and inspire new ways of thinking and problem solving.
Nearly 40% of HVO volunteers are "repeat" volunteers. Volunteers cover their own travel costs and the average out-of-pocket costs associated with an assignment are $2,900.
Health Volunteers Overseas works with local health care professionals in the following countries:
- Costa Rica
- St. Lucia
- A Doctor-to-Doctor International Medical Education Exchange JAMA. 1984;252(22):3170-3171. doi:10.1001/jama.1984.03350220076038
- Our History, Health Volunteers Overseas
- World Health Organization’s 2006 World Health Report
- A Universal Truth: No Health Without a Workforce World Health Organization 2014
- HVO Board of Directors
- Report on Audit of Combined Financial Statements (2014 & 2015)
- GuideStar Exchange: Health Volunteers Overseas
- BBB Wise Giving Alliance Charity Report
- Health Volunteers Overseas Website
- HVO Annual Reports and Audited Financial Statements
- Information on global health care crisis, from the Global Health Workforce Alliance
- HVO meets 20 out of 20 charity standards of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance