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Humanitarian Efforts

Humanitarian work can be a refreshing change from the frustrations of clinical practice and can be intensely rewarding. It can help to remind us of our motivation for choosing medicine as our life's work. Working in under-served areas and in countries with limited resources also encourages creative problem-solving and helps to address our own issues of cost-effectiveness.

Additional Information

Ways to Get Involved

Humanitarian Efforts Database

The Humanitarian Efforts committee has created a Humanitarian Efforts database.

Distinguished Award for Humanitarian Service

The President presents this award at the Opening Ceremony to an Academy member who is widely recognized for a consistent, stable character distinguished by honesty, zeal for truth, integrity, love and devotion to humanity and a self-giving spirit. The awardee is an outstanding example and model to emulate for a life dedicated to a nobler, more righteous, and more productive way for the human to live as an individual on this earth. The awardee is well known for professional excellence and has demonstrated professional dedication by the giving of professional skills freely, and without desire for personal gain or aggrandizement, to those in this world who cannot otherwise, physically and financially, receive them.

Wide Range of Opportunities to Help

Humanitarian work is not only disaster relief, but includes a wide range of service opportunities to improve medical care or education that benefit under-served populations. In the U.S., it may include volunteer work through a local free clinic, head and neck cancer screenings at a health fair, or visits to a Native American reservation, plus financial and moral support of residents and other otolaryngologists who do humanitarian work.

Huge contributions can also be made abroad: surgical missions, visits to teach newer surgical technologies (e.g., endoscopic sinus surgery), or research efforts to understand the scope of ENT diseases in developing countries. Some Academy members have found retirement as a time to shift their focus to volunteer work, starting foundations, moving to become the only otolaryngologist in a region, or helping to train new otolaryngologists in a department abroad. Residency is also an optimal time to participate. Find humanitarian information specific to residents.

Make a Difference in the World

Consider other opportunities. Is there a local hospital or religious organization that takes such trips, where you could add an otolaryngology component? Do you have language or other personal ties to some area of the world? Contact the International Federation of Otolaryngology Societies (IFOS) or any local contacts to create your own opportunity. Learn more about humanitarian work abroad.

At the AAO-HNSF Annual Meeting & OTO Experience

To find out more at Academy meetings, check the program for instructional courses on worldwide service in otolaryngology, or stop by an theHumanitarian Efforts Committee Forum to hear about other Academy members’ mission trips. These meetings also have large numbers of international participants, so introduce yourself and see if you can offer some sort of service. Click here to view the Annual Meeting & OTO Experience website.

Opportunities for Residents

Humanitarian Missions for Residents and Fellows-in-Training

Residency is an optimal time to participate in humanitarian mission trips domestically and especially abroad. Such service can hopefully set a pattern for future service and can be a tremendous learning and teaching experience. Without practice demands and with the energy and open-mindness that often is present in young people, you are encouraged to seek out opportunities to serve.

Searching for opportunities may take a considerable amount of time and effort to find one that is feasible for you. But it is completely worth it!

CLICK HERE to view our Humanitarian Efforts search page.

Some options for finding a mission trip:

  • A starting point is your attendings or other community otolaryngologists. Ask if they go on humanitarian missions and if you could join them. This is preferable since they already know you and would be more willing to oversee you in clinical work abroad. Local hospitals often have a multi-disciplinary team you could join.
  • Come to the Humanitarian Open Forum at the AAO-HNSF Annual Meetings. This is a 1-2 hour session where people make short presentations on trips they have done and report on their ongoing efforts. Speak with participants and ask about possibilities for joining them on future missions.
  • Create your own trip – several residents in the past have gone with one of their attendings to a developing country where they already had connections or did a similar service opportunity as a medical student.
  • Funding is often a major barrier to such service. For this reason, the Humanitarian Efforts Committee has created $1,000 travel grants for residents going on mission trips that last a minimum of 1 week. Learn More about the Humanitarian Resident Travel Grant or Apply Now. Additional funding sources may include your family, local otolaryngologists or societies, religious organizations, or corporate funding.

Tips for residents participating in international mission trips:

  • Work on possible funding sources – your training program, local otolaryngologists, family, religious organizations, AAO-HNSF travel grant.
  • Get a sense of what instruments or medications would be useful to the host country. Rechargeable items may be especially appreciated.
  • Bring pictures of your life – your family, friends, workplace – to share your experiences with others.
  • Take clinical photos to share with others abroad and to use in presentations.
  • Prepare short lectures. You could use pre-prepared PowerPoint presentations on the web and be ready to speak on various topics that the audience would like to hear.
  • When you arrive, resist the natural tendency to become introverted in a foreign environment in order to share as many of your experiences as possible. Ask questions about how they solve clinical dilemmas with limited resources.
  • While there, seek out opportunities and relationships so that you may potentially go back to the same city/hospitals after residency. Get a good sense of what their needs are; meet the heads of the hospital, officials, etc. whenever possible. Be thinking about options for the future while still there.
Humanitarian Notice Board

Learn more about various humanitarian organizations that offer medical missions abroad for otolaryngologists - head and neck surgeons. We currently have more than 60 organizations listed that span across all corners of the world.

Humanitarian Efforts Database

The Humanitarian Efforts committee has created a Humanitarian Efforts database.

Resources for Humanitarian Missions

General Relief Efforts

There are many other nonprofits doing good work. For an expanded list, contact The Academy does not certify the charities' fund allocations or administrative costs.

NOTE: The foundation's Humanitarian Efforts Committee created this list to facilitate Academy members' humanitarian service. The Foundation has no relationship with the organizations, and their inclusion on this site in no way constitutes a recommendation or endorsement. It is up to those who wish to volunteer service to contact the organization(s) of interest for further details.

Ways to Donate

When you cannot find time to join a medical mission, there are other ways to participate in the humanitarian process.

Ways to Donate

If time is an issue, there are many other ways to be a part of the Academy's Humanitarian Efforts.

Medical Equipment, Instruments, Supplies and Medication, Textbooks and Journals

Are you or someone you know thinking about retiring and closing down your practice? Why not donate equipment to an under-funded clinic in some where like Honduras? We work with several groups that accept medical supplies/equipment to be shipped to under–resource facilities all around the world. Interested parties, to either collect or contribute, please email or visit our the Humanitarian Notice Board.

Guidelines for Donating Medical Books, Journals, and Media Overseas 


The Humanitarian Resident Travel Grant supports residents and fellows who participate in a medical mission for at least one week.  Your donation to this fund will help provide underfunded communities in developing areas with medical assistance in otolaryngology, as well as a fantastic service learning opportunity for the grant recipients. Learn more about the Humanitarian Resident Travel Grant.

Humanitarian FAQs and other Resources

What humanitarian opportunities exist for otolaryngologists, residents, or other professionals? What should I expect from a medical mission? What resources are available? Get the answers to these and other questions.

Where can I find humanitarian opportunities for otolaryngologists, residents, or other professionals?

Find basic information on taking the first steps to "Ways to get Involved" in otolaryngology's humanitarian work.

Check out the Humanitarian Opportunities Database to learn more about various humanitarian organizations that offer medical missions abroad for otolaryngologists - head and neck surgeons. We currently have more than 60 organizations listed, stretching around the world. Contact for a list.

Residency is an optimal time to participate in humanitarian mission trips domestically and especially abroad. Such service can hopefully set a pattern for future service and can be a tremendous learning and teaching experience. Learn more about opportunities for residents.

What is involved in a medical mission?

Learn how to prepare for a medical mission.

WHO Basic Manual
WHO INtermediate Level
WHO Advance Ear Care

Read James D. Smith, MD's guide on what to expect from a medical mission, including tips on planning and making the most of your volunteer vacation.

What resources are there?

Humanitarian Resident Travel Grants are for residents and fellows in training wishing to participate in a humanitarian medical mission for at least one week. Each grant recipient will receive $1,000 for medical missions. 

How else can I contribute to the Academy's humanitarian efforts?

When time is too much of an issue, there are other ways to participate in the humanitarian process. There are many ways to donate to otolaryngology's humanitarian endeavors.

Preparation for a Humanitarian Mission Trip

Once you have found or created an opportunity for humanitarian service, you can start to work on the many details that will make for a successful trip. Setting a time line for yourself leading up to the trip may be helpful to ensure that the following areas are addressed:

Passport and Visa
This may take several months to secure, so make sure that you start early. If you are being hosted by a person, hospital, or organization you may need a letter of support. You can get information on obtaining a passport and any relevant travel warnings from the State Department website. Make copies of all of your important documents.

Vaccination/Travel Medicines
Start early.  Many destinations, missions and hospitals require a series of several shots to be immunized. Most universities have a travel clinic that provides you with all relevant health information about the country, or you can check the CDC website. At the travel clinic they will talk with you about the need for malaria prophylaxis in addition to medicine needed to treat bacterial diarrhea and other likely health problems. Check to see if your insurance covers you while away and if there is medical evacuation coverage.

Professional Considerations
Find out if you will need a license to practice in the country. You may be required to having a sponsoring physician and obtaining a license may take months. Also consider whether liability insurance is necessary in the country.

Equipment and Supplies
Identify the types and numbers of cases that you expect to do on the mission. Write out a list of all necessary items for performing the case, including microscopes, loupes, headlights, gloves, electrocautery, antibiotics, local and general anesthetic, anesthesia machines, suture, instruments and cleansing prep. Items such as drapes and sponges can be collected by your OR prior to leaving if this is organized far enough in advance. Some items may already be on site from previous missions, but you must be certain that everything is in working order since spare parts may not be available. Check the electric current of the country so as not to damage equipment. Some institutions and hospitals will lend you the equipment for surgery but most medications will have to be purchased. Suture can be obtained from Medical Assistance Programs International (MAP) if it is available, in addition to some medications. Refurbished electrocautery equipment can be requested from Valley Lab if they are available. Make sure your host meets you at the airport to prevent any difficulty with customs, especially with expensive equipment and medications. Make sure that the medication is not expired before you leave.

Personal Comfort
Bring with you items that will help you be more comfortable. Many times you are in a different time zone surrounded by unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells. Things that may be helpful include: toilet paper, a favorite snack (make sure that it will not spoil or attract insects), a travel pillow, flashlight, book to read, business cards, extra batteries, ibuprofen, and toys/stickers for the children you treat.

Communicating with Home
Cellular telephones are now used in most countries. Many of your hosts will allow you to borrow their cell phone and you can purchase minutes to use on them. Additionally, you can buy cheap cell phones in country. Cellular telephones from some domestic carriers are functional internationally. Check with your cellular phone provider for details. Internet cafes are also common although the connections are usually slow.

Money Abroad
Cash and credit are always good. Many places have ATM machines where you can withdraw local currency for a fee with your bankcard. Be certain if you change cash that you are doing it with a reputable individual and that you know the exchange rate. Credit cards can be used in many large cities, but cash is necessary in more remote locations and smaller stores. Make sure that someone in the United States has your credit card numbers and access to have them cancelled if they are lost or stolen.

For more tips, read What to Expect from a Medical Mission.

Humanitarian Efforts Committee

Humanitarian Efforts Committee

The AAO-HNSF Humanitarian Efforts Committee acts as a clearinghouse for those who wish to volunteer or support humanitarian efforts around the world. We encourage you to contact with any recommendations for supplies and assistance.