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A Guide to Volunteering Overseas: Education and Accountability

  • May 8, 2018
  • Blog
Nancy Kelly, MHS, Executive Director, Health Volunteers Overseas

Nancy Kelly, MHS, Executive Director, Health Volunteers Overseas

Nancy Kelly has been the Executive Director of Health Volunteers Overseas since it was founded in 1986. Prior to that time, she worked for the National Council for International Health and served as a Maternal Child Health Worker with the Peace Corps in the Republic of Korea. Ms. Kelly received her BA in Asian Studies from the University of Virginia. Upon completion of her Peace Corps service, she pursued graduate studies at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health earning a Master of Health Science degree in Maternal and Child Health.

Since 1986, Health Volunteers Overseas has collaborated with a variety of health institutions to design, develop and implement education projects, working toward better patient care around the world by providing knowledge, skills and professional development opportunities to local health providers in resource-scarce countries.

Because our model centers on the specific needs of our overseas partners, the actual educational implementation can vary widely from mentoring and professional development for hospital staff to curriculum development and classroom education for health care students. But no matter the nature of the project, all require the essential element of accountability.

Emphasize accountability in an education module.

In the publication, A Guide to Volunteering Overseas, HVO provides a chapter on the design of education modules. At the heart of an education module is accountability, requiring two key elements for any teaching plan: measurable objectives and evaluation.   

As stated in the Guide, objectives “form the bridge between the perceived need or problem and the planned solution.” These objectives are at the heart of a teaching plan, guiding educators in the lessons they teach and helping students understand what concepts and skills they should be learning. Objectives state specific goals for a teaching plan, and serve as a yardstick to determine whether or not an educator is successful.

Objectives will vary based on the needs of students, but they should all be created with measurability in mind, which in turn, facilitates evaluation. HVO’s A Guide to Volunteer Overseas highlights why evaluation is so essential to any education project:

Without evaluation, you have no way of knowing if you have met your objectives, if the learner has mastered the new skill, knowledge or attitude, or if your teaching methods and techniques were effective.

Inform future work with reporting and evaluation.

Time and again, HVO has seen the benefit of objectives and evaluation. One example comes from our physical therapy project in Haiti, which initially centered on the training and certification of rehabilitation technicians. Working with the local health system and several rehabilitation experts, HVO volunteers developed a curriculum with established benchmarks and objectives for students seeking certification. The HVO project director assigned each volunteer to the project site a portion of the curriculum, and they, in turn, built their lessons from the specified education goals. With each unit, HVO volunteers conducted written and practical exams to test students’ comprehension.

Every volunteer reported to the HVO project director on their work following an assignment. Their reports, which included the results of their evaluations, led the project director to revise the curriculum to improve the quality of the technicians’ education. These evaluations also helped guide the next volunteers in their work with the students; when exams demonstrated that students had not grasped a concept, volunteers could revisit lessons.

The overall impact of using objectives and evaluation resulted in a comprehensive curriculum that educated rehab techs so they could effectively serve their community. Other health institutions in Haiti have since adopted the rehabilitation technician curriculum, continuing to produce new techs, while the site of HVO’s original project in Haiti has transitioned to a continuing education focus. The current project builds on the objectives and learning goals of the rehabilitation technician curriculum, guiding volunteers in their continuing education teaching plans. As one volunteer observed of the graduates at HVO’s project site:

The feelings that I have as I look back are positive. The techs have been taught and trained well. As long as they are challenged they will stay engaged. It will be a pleasure to hear about their progress in the future.

Accountability is essential for successful education programs and projects. As HVO has learned, clear, measurable objectives and evaluation tools ensure the work of our volunteers improves patient care by effectively educating and empowering local health workers.

Learn about Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO).

For more than 28 years, Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO) has worked to improve global health through the education, training and professional development of health care providers in resource-scarce countries. HVO designs projects in partnership with local health institutions, creating projects focused on the educational needs of local providers that address the health care challenges of their local communities in the areas of trauma care, child and maternal health, essential surgery, cancer care, rehabilitation, and more. HVO volunteers are trained health care professionals – physicians, nurses, dentists, physical therapists and others – willing to donate their time and expertise to work side-by-side with their colleagues overseas. They provide lectures, bedside training, curriculum development, mentoring and guidance to their colleagues in 25 resource-scarce countries around the world. Learn more at www.hvousa.org.