What is Doctors Without Borders?

Doctors Without Borders is an international, non-profitable, non-governmental, medical humanitarian organization. It was founded in 1971 by a group of French doctors and journalists who were dissatisfied with the neutrality of the Red Cross. Doctors Without Borders is also known internationally by its French name Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Moreover, it was awarded the 1999 Noble Peace Prize.

MSF provides medical aid in over 70 countries worldwide, and has offices in 21 countries. Private donors provide around 90% of the organization’s funding, and corporate donations provide the rest, giving MSF an annual budget of roughly US$ 1.63 billion (2016).

MSF’s Principles

MSF members agree to respect their professional code of ethics, observe neutrality and impartiality. They maintain complete independence from all political, economic, or religious powers. Moreover, members understand the risks and dangers of the missions they carry out and not claim for themselves any form of compensation apart from that which the association may be able to afford.

How MSF works

These doctors provides medical assistance to people affected by wars, epidemics, famine, natural disasters and human-made disasters, or at locations where there is no health care available. MSF was set up to respond to emergencies and provide free, high-quality medical care. Additionally, it helps everyone irrespective of their race, religion, or political beliefs.

The medical action MSF takes comes in multiple forms:

  • Emergency health care, including surgery
  • Mass vaccination campaigns
  • Water and Sanitation
  • Therapeutic and supplementary nutrition
  • Distribution of medicines and medical supplies
  • Training and health education
  • Organization or rehabilitation of health facilities
  • Medical assistance within existing health facilities

Realities of Life in the Field

Living conditions

Working abroad with Doctors Without Borders will require you to adjust to unfamiliar food, living quarters, pace of life, forms of entertainment, languages, and companions you may or may not get along with. Moreover, you might not be able to practice your favorite sports, socialize outside the team, or have internet access for the period of your placement.


Working in an unknown culture involves challenges in communication and perceptions. You may be in a country where people have a very different understanding of issues such as punctuality, responsible behavior, or respect for personal space. Moreover, when working in the field, people may not act or think like you, agreeing this, and being able to adjust your own behavior if required, is very significant.

Security and Safety

Because MSF’s aim is to provide medical help to people in distress, the work may occur in places of active conflict, where there are inherent risks, potential danger, and threats to safety and security. Furthermore, MSF accepts that it is impossible to ignore all risks, but it does its best as an association to lessen these risks through complete security management.

Working for MSF is entirely an individual’s choice; they must decide for themselves the level of risk and the circumstances in which they feel comfortable. Once on a mission, if you feel the risk is too great then you can ask to return home.

Personal Life and Stress

Working with MSF means staying away from your loved ones for a long time. Additionally, humanitarian work in emergency situations can be highly stressful. A wide range of issues can cause stress and remove your motivation to work:

  • Strained relations with teammates
  • health problems
  • lack of communication with relatives back home
  • insecurity
  • frequent changes in project
  • difficult relations with local authorities
  • poor living conditions and diet.

While it is essential to keep all of this in mind, don’t forget that thousands of people have worked with MSF over the years and found their experiences to be challenging and ultimately very rewarding. Additionally, for many, working in the field has been a life-changing event.