Working overseas FAQs
Your frequently-asked questions about our recruitment process, benefits, requirements, opportunities for students, international medical graduates, and career development are all answered here.
Do I need to be a resident of Canada to apply to work with MSF Canada?
We are considering professionals who are legally entitled to work in Canada (Canadian permanent resident or citizen). MSF Canada is not in the position to support with any work permit process for these international mobile staff (field) positions.
If you’re not a resident of Canada, please submit your application to the appropriate MSF office.
Is this like joining a volunteer abroad program?
No. Going on assignment with MSF requires solid, transferable experience (at least two years) and going through a rigorous recruitment process and induction. You have a contract, expectations to fill and often a heavy workload. It is a job with many responsibilities in a complex and challenging context.
What are the criteria to work for MSF?
Detailed criteria can be found on the current opportunities page under individual job description pages. We only accept online applications and from applicants who meet our recruitment criteria.
What type of professionals do we recruit to work on our project overseas?
We recruit medical and non-medical professionals to work on our projects. Our international staff combine technical abilities and practical experience with a commitment to, and concern for, the well-being of the people MSF seeks to help.
Most MSF staff members are recruited locally in the countries where we work; international staff members, such as those from Canada, make up less than 10% of total MSF employees.
May I request placement in a specific country?
It’s not possible to place people according to their specific country requests. We recruit applicants into a pool before matching them to a specific position based on their skills, experience and the operational needs at that moment.
We expect candidates to be flexible about where they work so that we can meet the needs of our projects.
However, your special skills, languages and questions related to security will be taken into consideration for each placement.
What qualities and experiences will help me succeed in an MSF role?
There is no single way to be a great humanitarian – MSF’s workforce is made up of people with a great variety of skills, professional and lived experience, personalities and strengths. Everyone’s experience will be unique, and everyone brings different insights and perspectives. That is what makes MSF assignments so dynamic, interesting, meaningful and challenging.
Qualities that will always help people succeed and adapt to the nature of our work include: flexibility and adaptability, ability to work well in a team, openness and resilience.
Can couples apply to work together on the same project?
We’re usually unable to place couples together on their first assignments, as individuals are matched to specific vacancies across the world, based on their skills.
It can also be difficult to place a couple in the same place at the same time even when they have experience with MSF, as different vacancies become available at different times.
Do I need to speak another language to work for MSF?
English is the global language used across MSF. However, fluency in another language will significantly enhance your application and the possibility of placement.
Currently, we have high demand for fluent French speakers. Beyond speaking French, speaking other languages like Arabic, Spanish and Portuguese is considered an asset.
How long is an assignment or placement?
The length of an MSF assignment abroad is between six and 12 months for all professions, except for medical specialists such as anesthesiologists, surgeons and obstetricians/gynecologists — who, due to the specificity of their work, are placed in projects from six weeks to three months.
How long does the recruitment process take?
The application process on average takes around three to six months.
When is the best time to apply?
You can apply at any time, but the best scenario is to apply when you already know your definite dates of availability. Ideally, this would be at least three to six months before you are available.
What are the working hours in the field?
Working hours vary considerably depending on the project. On average, field staff have one to two days off per week. Work pace and volume can be high, especially in emergency interventions, and you may be required to put in longer hours. However, time is normally set aside for rest and relaxation.
Are there age restrictions to work internationally for MSF?
There is no age limit for participation in MSF projects, however candidates must meet the minimum criteria in terms of experience and skills, and must meet health requirements with respect to the conditions of the field.
Can my family accompany me on an assignment?
In most cases, living conditions in the field (security, housing, etc.) make it impossible for field workers to be accompanied by children or partners who are not participating in the assignment. This is particularly true for most initial assignments. While some coordination roles allow field workers to have dependents with them in the field, these are only available after several assignments, and in specific roles and contexts.
Do you recruit people from the military?
Our policy is that if you have been a member of the armed forces, you can apply for MSF roles two years after leaving the military and/or reserve forces while showing a transition to civilian life.
Do you recruit dentists or dental hygienists?
We don’t recruit dentists as this is not part of our emergency medical activities.
Do you recruit paramedics?
We do not recruit paramedics as international field workers. The vast majority of MSF staff members with hands-on paramedic/first responder responsibilities are recruited locally.
I don’t meet your criteria; can you recommend another organization for me to try?
While MSF is not affiliated with any other international organizations, we do have a list of other overseas organizations you can contact to gain more experience.
Does MSF Canada accept volunteers or interns?
Yes! See our job board for internship postings. We also accept a number of volunteers in our Toronto and Montreal offices. You can submit an application to volunteer here.
Does MSF Canada provide mental health support?
Psychosocial Care Unit
While many Canadians who have worked with MSF overseas have described their experiences as enriching or rewarding, MSF Canada recognizes the potential psychosocial impact that working on the front lines of emergency contexts and humanitarian disasters can have. The MSF Canada Psychosocial Care Unit (PSCU) provides pre-departure and post-assignment support to MSF field workers, in cooperation with our MSF operational centre partners, who are responsible for the physical and psychological health of our field workers while they are on assignment. Our PSCU support staff have experience in field work and in providing mental health support in international humanitarian contexts. Services are available in both French and English.
Aside from the medical training, what else can I do to prepare myself for an MSF assignment?
Be aware of the limitations of medical delivery services in the countries where MSF works, the politics involved, and the social conditions that limit education and access to medical care. Read, read, read! MSF sites are a good resource for this, as well as other non-governmental and relief web sites. Please see the links to public health, epidemiology, journals and non-governmental sites listed on this web site. Languages are a key asset. Do your best to be proficient in at least one language other than English, such as French, Spanish or Arabic.
Do you have to be an expert on a specific topic to work with MSF?
No, you are briefed and given information on your assignment before you leave, so you will have the opportunity to do specific readings ahead of time. Some assignments, such as nutritional projects, have specific protocols to follow. MSF has extensive literature on nutrition and other medical topics that are available in the field. As an MSF doctor, you must make decisions about treating associated medical conditions, and for this you need a general medical background. You will also have backup: other medical people on your assignment (laboratory technicians, nurses and other doctors); your project’s medical coordinator; the medical department; experts at headquarters, who are specialists in nutrition, malaria, etc; and the local medical staff hired by MSF — colleagues who will know a lot about endemic diseases.
How can I gain practical experience that will be helpful on an MSF assignment?
Electives in tropical medicine, infectious diseases, community health and work in a travel clinic are all good places to start. Electives within and outside of Canada in remote locations — where there is limited capacity to transfer out patients or consult with specialists — are also valuable, as they reflect the situation in many MSF projects. Overseas electives will give you some idea of what to expect, although you may be working under completely different conditions on your mission. On most MSF assignments in tropical or malaria-endemic areas, a sound knowledge of malaria is highly useful.
How much experience in tropical medicine do I really need?
Alongside good general medical abilities, tropical medicine knowledge and skills are an asset in many MSF projects. The exact extent, however, will depend on your specific assignment. Some assignments focus on one disease, such as sleeping sickness or tuberculosis, where you will become very familiar with that condition. Of course, you will not be treating this disease exclusively, so the more you know about what is endemic to that region, the better. At the project location in the field, MSF often has a medical library where you can access standard reference books, such as Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, the Merck Manual, Nelson’s Pediatrics and Manson’s Tropical Medicine. MSF also has its own publications, which are practical and to-the-point. These resources can help you with specific situations, such as dealing with a measles or meningitis epidemic. MSF also has a comprehensive “treasury”, a set of electronic documents with extensive medical and non-medical information that can often help field teams in remote settings make key clinical and operational decisions.
What are the main diseases you can expect to treat on an MSF assignment?
This will depend on where you are and what is endemic in that area. However, in general you will be dealing mostly with malaria, parasitic diseases, diarrheal illnesses, fevers of unknown origin and respiratory infections. Some of our programs have a specific focus, such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Childhood diseases are common, and vaccinations are a priority for MSF. Malnutrition is a key part of many projects. Outside of ambulatory issues, pediatrics and tropical medicine, it is important you already have an approach to obstetrical and gynecological problems, mental health, tropical dermatology, trauma, surgical issues, orthopedics and stabilizing seriously ill patients with few advanced resources.
Will I be the only doctor or medical person on my first assignment?
You may well be on an isolated project, several days and a significant distance away from another doctor or medical person — or you may find yourself working closely with a doctor who has a lifetime of experience, or perhaps with a team of several other people all on their first mission. Each assignment is different and has specific challenges. In all cases, you will be part of a medical team composed of international and locally hired staff; as a medical doctor or professional, you will work closely with locally recruited medical staff.
Compensation, pay and benefits
Do your international field workers get paid?
International field workers receive an indemnity monthly gross salary of $2,687.67 to a Canadian bank account. After one year of field experience, the field worker will enter a salary grid, where salary depends on responsibility involved in the field position and also the amount of previous experience. Meanwhile, MSF covers accommodation and transport to and from the field, as well as a per diem in local currency.
What are the benefits included in a MSF contract?
- Pre-departure training through a combination of readings, e-learning and face-to-face meetings and workshops, as well as additional trainings and professional development opportunities throughout an MSF career
- Reimbursement of required vaccinations and related medical fees
- Required visas and work permits
- Paid vacation (25 days per year) pro-rated to the duration of contract
- Accommodation and round-trip transportation to and from the field as well as travel costs in Canada and Europe for briefings and debriefings
- Daily compensation in local currency paid while in the field for coverage of basic expenses. This varies in amount depending on country and context.
- Medical, disability and life insurance coverage (including dental and vision)
- Medical evacuation coverage
- Medical/professional indemnity (health workers)
- Luggage insurance
- RRSP contribution
- Psychological support before departing and upon return to Canada
- Access to an Employee Assistance Program for one year after returning to Canada
- Confidential peer support network that contacts you before departure, and after returning to Canada to ensure a smooth re-entry
Do I get annual leave while working overseas?
You’re entitled to 25 days of paid holiday per year, pro-rated to your contract length.
Is there any health screening before you go to the field?
You’ll be required to complete a medical clearance form prior to going on assignment.
All medical information is treated confidentially and won’t be shared without your consent.
Am I covered by insurance while I am in the field with MSF?
You are covered for the duration of your assignment and for three months after your return to Canada.
What if I am injured or become ill?
MSF insurance covers care if you become ill and, if necessary, repatriation for field staff in case of medical emergencies.
International medical graduates
Does MSF Canada accept International Medical Graduates (IMGs) to work overseas?
Yes, we accept International Medical Graduates. Beyond needing to meet all the essential requirements outlined on our website for physicians, you will need to meet the following additional requirements:
- You are a graduate from a medical school that is listed in the World Directory of Medical Schools and that has a corresponding Sponsor Note from ECFMG.
- You belong to a medical association, and have a valid license from your country of origin or from where you practiced medicine most recently.
- You have been actively practicing medicine within the last two years (some considerations are made for medical professionals with lengthy clinical careers).
- You must provide a recent letter of good standing from your medical association or licensing body.
- You must provide three clinical references who will be contacted by telephone or email.
- For applicants who are positively selected, we will ask that certain medical credentials are verified after the interview process, through the Electronic Portfolio of International Credentials (EPIC) service.
What is verification through the EPIC service?
The Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) partners with MSF Canada to verify the medical credentials of internationally educated physicians who are successfully recruited to work with MSF Canada. To learn more about how MSF supports IMGs with EPIC service, free of cost, click here.
What credentials will be verified through EPIC?
If you are successful in the application process, the following credentials are required to be verified through EPIC in order to complete your application:
- Final Medical Diploma
- Letter/Certificate of Good Standing
- Specialist Qualification, if applicable
When will I receive instructions to verify my credentials?
You must first proceed through the general MSF application process by filling out an online application form here.
Should you successfully complete the interview portion of the process, you will then be advised by MSF whether to have your credentials verified through EPIC; the costs associated with using EPIC for this purpose will be paid for by MSF. Only candidates invited to complete the verification process will be reimbursed.
What if I have already had my credentials verified, such as for the Medical Council of Canada (MCC) process?
If your credentials have already been primary-source verified by ECFMG, for example in support of an application to the Medical Council of Canada, you will be able to transfer to MSF credentials that were previously verified by ECFMG.
Are there any learning and development opportunities when working with MSF?
We strongly encourage people to continue working for us beyond their first assignment, as their experience is of huge value to the effectiveness of our work. As such, we offer various career opportunities to our field workers.
You can broaden your professional experience by working in a variety of different projects, and you will have access to training courses run by MSF and external providers.
Are there career development opportunities?
There are many long-term career opportunities with MSF. Gaining varied kinds of MSF field experience makes you eligible for field coordination positions or advisory positions in our operational centres.
If you’re interested in a career with MSF, you can discuss your options during the recruitment process and, if your application is successful, you will be matched with a career manager who will be your focal point for your career development with MSF.
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