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Original research
Healthcare providers’ and managers’ knowledge, attitudes and perceptions regarding international medical volunteering in Uganda: a qualitative study
  1. Fenella Hayes1,
  2. Janet Clark2,
  3. Mary McCauley1
  1. 1Centre for Maternal and Newborn Health, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Liverpool, UK
  2. 2Voluntary Service Overseas, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Mary McCauley; mary.mccauley{at}


Objectives The study sought to explore the knowledge, attitudes and perceptions of healthcare providers and health programme managers regarding the benefits, challenges and impact of international medical volunteers’ clinical placements. Views on how to better improve the work of international medical volunteers and the volunteer organisation Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) for the benefit of local communities were also explored.

Settings Public healthcare facilities, VSO offices in Gulu and VSO offices in Kampala, Uganda.

Participants Ugandan healthcare providers (n=11) and health programme managers (n=6) who had worked with or managed international medical volunteers.

Interventions Data collection was conducted using key informant interviews. Transcribed interviews were coded by topic and grouped into categories. Thematic framework analysis using NVivo identified emerging themes.

Results Both healthcare providers and managers reported a beneficial impact of volunteers and working with the volunteer organisation (clinical service provision, multidisciplinary teamwork, patient-centred care, implementation of audits, improved quality of care, clinical teaching and mentoring for local healthcare providers); identified challenges of working with volunteers (language barriers and unrealistic expectations) and the organisation (lack of clear communication and feedback processes); and provided recommendations to improve volunteer placements and working partnership with the organisation (more local stakeholder input and longer placements). Most healthcare providers were positive and recommended that volunteers are enabled to continue to work in such settings if resources are available to do so.

Conclusions Healthcare providers based in a low-resource setting report positive experiences and impacts of working with international medical volunteers. Currently, there is lack of local feedback processes, and the establishment of such processes that consider local stakeholder reflections requires further strengthening. These would help gain a better understanding of what is needed to ensure optimal effectiveness and sustainable impact of international medical volunteer placements.

  • health services administration & management
  • quality in health care
  • international health services
  • medical education & training
  • human resource management

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See:

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  • Contributors MM conceived the study idea and design. FH developed the topic guide, conducted the interviews, transcription and data analysis, interpreted and presented the results, and contributed to the manuscript. JC contributed to data analysis and interpretation of the results. MM coordinated and supervised the research activities, contributed to the interpretation of the results and wrote the manuscript. All authors have read, edited and approved the final manuscript for submission.

  • Funding This study was self-funded by FH as part of her dissertation for the Master’s in International Public Health programme at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

  • Competing interests FH declares no competing interests. MM previously volunteered as a doctor with VSO Ethiopia, and JC previously worked as an employee of VSO UK.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval The Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Liverpool, UK (LSTM14.025), the Gulu University Research Ethics Committee (GUREC-050-19) and the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (HS389ES) all granted ethical approval.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available upon reasonable request.

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