Work With Us In The Field
Embark on a journey of incredible personal and professional growth. Join the thousands of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical and support professionals helping people in crisis around the globe. MSF currently provides medical assistance in more than 60 countries, in emergency situations caused by armed conflict, epidemics and disasters. Due to the changing nature of humanitarian challenges, MSF also works increasingly with people living in situations of chronic poverty and ongoing exclusion from basic medical care. These medium- and longer-term projects now comprise the majority of MSF missions.
Helping others help themselves
In addition to direct medical intervention, MSF field workers play an important role in building critical medical and support skills of local staff, ideally so MSF support is no longer needed.
Who is needed?
MSF requires a broad range of medical professionals, particularly those with specialized expertise in tropical medicine, endemic diseases, emergency and trauma, malnutrition and obstetrics.
In addition to medical staff, field projects depend on key support professionals who ensure that day-to-day operations run as smoothly as possible – attending to supplies, transportation, construction, information technology, water and sanitation, human resources, finance and general administration. Explore examples of these different job categories here:
Essential requirements for all profiles:
- Commitment to the aims and values of MSF
- Experience supervising, training and managing others
- Ability to cope with stress
- Ability to work well as part of a multi-cultural and multi-disciplinary team
- Ability to organize and prioritize workload
- Willingness to work in unstable environments
- Strong command of English
- Valid passport to cover period overseas
- Relevant travel or work experience in a developing country or remote parts of Canada
- Professional and personal flexibility and adaptability
Desirable criteria for all profiles:
- Knowledge of other languages, especially French (knowledge of Spanish, Portuguese, Russian or Arabic also an asset)
- Previous field experience in a similar role with a nongovernmental organization
In addition to the ongoing needs for the above roles, there is currently an urgent requirement for the following: (Please check for updates. When we have emergencies, information will be posted here.)
Terms of employment
A typical MSF mission lasts six to 12 months, though a mission may be of shorter duration for emergencies or for needs driven by particular circumstances. MSF field workers need time to become acclimated to the work and the environment in order to assume a significant level of responsibility within the project, as well as to provide continuity for the benefit of both our national staff and patients.
Surgeons, obstetricians-gynecologists and anesthesiologists can be exempt from this requirement.
Some MSF projects are launched in response to sudden crises, whether natural or otherwise, requiring the participation of field workers who are available on short notice and for shorter durations.
Some field workers commit to MSF for a single mission only, but many enjoy the flexibility of being able to undertake missions during different periods in their careers as personal circumstances permit. Others may determine that working with MSF is a way of life suited to their values and career aspirations over the long term. In this latter case, positions within each of the two job streams (medical and support professionals) lend themselves to increasing responsibility, scope and complexity over time and the opportunity to have an impact on the strategic direction of the organization at the management level.
MSF is committed to the ongoing professional development of its field workers. It provides them with access to various types of training that build the skills and knowledge required to fulfill its mandate. This ensures that MSF as an organization can respond to the most urgent and critical needs of the people it helps around the globe, people who often require scarce and highly specialized types of expertise from medical and support professionals. This commitment to learning and development also reinforces MSF’s reputation as a learning organization committed to high standards of professionalism and relevant best practices.
To this end, through discussion with their Human Resources Officer, fieldworkers may apply for sponsorship to participate in training programs that align both with their own development needs and career aspirations as well as with the strategic needs of the organization at a given point in time.
Training programs can range from language training, to sophisticated medical treatments and protocols, to management and leadership best practices, and a host of other possibilities relevant to the medical and professional support streams.
MSF salaries are set so as to reflect the humanitarian spirit of volunteerism while recognizing the high level of professional expertise provided by field staff. Monthly salary is approximately $1,700, with subsequent increases based on expertise and experience. Canadians working in the field with MSF receive a Canadian contract in which all required taxes and contributions are deducted.
- Pre-departure training through a combination of readings, e-learning and face-to-face meetings and workshops
- Reimbursement of required vaccinations and related medical fees
Required visas and work permits
- Paid vacation (25 days per year)
- Accommodation and transportation in Canada and Europe for briefings and debriefings
- Daily per diem in local currency paid while in the field
- Accommodation in the field
- Round-trip transportation to the field
- Medical, disability and life insurance coverage (including dental and vision)
- Medical evacuation coverage
- Medical/professional indemnity (health workers)
- Luggage insurance
- RRSP contribution
- Psychological support after returning 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 back to Canada to ensure a smooth re-entry
Life in the Field
Life in an MSF project is full of challenges and frustration, as well as enormous satisfaction and reward. Projects may be located in the most remote places in the world, often in harsh environments with limited resources and amenities. This can mean rudimentary medical equipment and supplies, bland food (cabbage, beans, lentils), interesting housemates (snakes, bats, scorpions) and few leisure outlets (jogging on the landing strip). Nevertheless, MSF ensures adequate accommodation, appropriate water and sanitation standards, access to the Internet wherever possible, and even clean laundry. A special camaraderie emerges amongst members of a project team who come from different countries, backgrounds and experience. This creates a shared sense of purpose, sparking ingenuity and resourcefulness in getting things done, and a lot of spontaneous fun.
Security and Safety
Because MSF’s purpose is to bring medical assistance to people in distress, the work may occur in settings of active conflict, or in post-conflict environments, in which there are inherent risks, potential danger and ongoing threats to safety and security.
MSF acknowledges that it is impossible to exclude all risks, but it does its utmost as an organization to mitigate and manage these risks through strict and comprehensive security protocols. Each field mission has detailed safety regulations and security plans in place based on thorough analysis of that specific context.
Working for MSF is a deeply personal choice; individuals must determine for themselves the level of risk and the circumstances in which they feel comfortable, based on a full and transparent understanding of the possibilities they may face. Field workers will be fully informed of the risk associated with a potential mission before accepting a particular posting. Once in the mission, all MSF staff must strictly observe security rules and regulations; failure to do so may result in dismissal.
Do You Have What It Takes?
The following is a general but by no means exhaustive overview of the minimum requirements for working with MSF in the field.
Professional work experience
A minimum of two years professional work experience is required. Depending on their specialty, we ask that medical doctors have at least a minimum of one year post-residency.
Ability to live and work as a team
MSF field workers live and work together. The hours are long and the living conditions are basic, with little privacy. Field workers need to be tolerant and flexible and possess solid interpersonal skills. The ability and willingness to interact with people of all nationalities and cultures are critical.
Experience in developing countries
Since MSF works most often in developing countries, previous work or travel experience in countries in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, or in remote areas such as the Canadian North, is essential.
Ability to manage stress
The environment of an MSF project is often chaotic and volatile and the people we are trying to help may have seemingly overwhelming needs. Even in more stable areas, heavy workloads and a high pressure to respond may be stressful. Field workers must be able to cope with being away from home and family for an extended period in a difficult and unpredictable environment.
Situations can change quickly in the field, and job descriptions must change accordingly. Team composition and working environments may also change during missions. Flexibility and adaptability are critical to one’s success in an MSF project.
Acting as teacher and trainer
The willingness and ability to train others is a core expectation of MSF workers. Building the capacity of national staff to become less dependent on outside intervention is an important goal in any MSF project. This means that the focus is not just in getting the job done, but in teaching others how to do it.
Language skills are a strong asset. The ability to speak French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic or an African language, as well as English, allows for more opportunities for placement. Preference will be given to candidates who are bilingual in English and French.
As you consider your suitability to undertake an MSF field mission, it is critical that you bring a well-informed and realistic understanding to your decision:
- Do you have the patience to work through the inevitably frustrating communication breakdowns that occur during cross cultural interactions?
- Are you open minded and creative when facing unexpected problems?
- Do you have constructive and readily available means of coping with stress, anxiety and frustration?
- Are you prepared to compromise some of your personal freedom because of security in some areas?
- Have you considered how you will respond in the presence of extreme suffering and deprivation, part of the day-to-day reality of many of the people MSF assists?
- Are you honest about your own motivation for seeking this type of work and realistic in your expectations of what it will be like?
Despite such challenges, thousands of people have worked with MSF over the years and found their experiences in the field to be deeply rewarding, even life-changing. Being an MSF field worker means acting in solidarity with people facing unimaginable medical challenges. Your presence alongside people in times of need sends a profoundly meaningful and human message: “You are not forgotten.”
If you are interested in moving forward, please refer to the Application Process.
The Application Process
You must be able to legally work in Canada for the duration of your contract and travel internationally for work. If this is not the case, please check recruitment requirements of other offices of Médecins Sans Frontières.