How to be a successful candidate with MSF

29 Sep 2023

Each year, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) recruits more than 3,000 internationally hired staff globally to work on our programs providing lifesaving medical assistance to people in crisis.

MSF has been providing medical care for more than 50 years, and in that time, the recruitment landscape has changed dramatically. We continuously review the needs of the communities we work in and update the criteria for international workers based on that. It's therefore important to check the essential criteria closely and ensure you meet them before applying. 

Medical team walking alongside a medical train

MSF international staff walking alongside a medical train in Ukraine. © Andrii Ovod/MSF

There are currently limited positions for general doctors and nurses, unless they have significant experience in low-resource settings, and speak a second language, ideally French or Spanish.  

Over the last few years, more program roles have been filled by local professionals rather than internationally hired professionals. MSF recognises an urgent need to attract and retain senior locally hired staff to meet operational needs. This means that more locally hired staff are being recruited for program roles, which aligns with our HR principles to aim to improve staff mobility and team diversity.

So where professionals from Australia and New Zealand, Europe, and North America, would fly in to support health services and systems, these roles are increasingly being filled by professionals in our program countries across Africa, Asia, South America, and the Middle East. This means that there are fewer positions available for internationally hired staff.

Globally, we recognise this as a positive step. Recruiting locally enables communities to build sustainable capacity in medical and healthcare, it offers local people more job opportunities, and it reduces our carbon footprint. We are committed to placing the decision making power closer to the delivery of healthcare.  

But for international recruitment, this means it is harder to secure a first or even second assignment than it used to be. Once you have gained experience, however, more opportunities open up. As you add to your knowledge and experience, you can build a career with MSF. 

Working for MSF is a commitment, rather than an adventure or a one-off opportunity

What we are looking for in applicants 

We are looking for people who want to commit to multiple assignments and have a long-term humanitarian career. Hiring and training our staff is a major investment and we want to work with people who want to grow with the organisation. 

The skills and experience outlined below will make it easier and faster for us to place you in a project.

1. Experience living and working in low-resource or remote settings

MSF works in countries that have limited resources and often in very remote regions, making it challenging to get the tools you might have access to in Australia or New Zealand. We recommend getting experience working and living in a rural or remote region to prepare you for working in a low-tech context, similar to where our projects are located. This is especially important for medical candidates.  

This may be experience in locations across Africa, Asia, Central or South America or the Middle East, or in communities in rural/remote settings in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific region. We’re most interested in examples where you can demonstrate your confidence working in a context where resources are limited. 

Reaching remote communities in south-east Central African Republic The outreach team crosses the river on a floating platform known locally as a “bak”. It is market day, and the MSF team is crossing alongside many traders who walked for hours to get there, mostly in very harsh conditions. The team is on a trip to support local health centres.

Reaching remote communities in south-east Central African Republic, the outreach team crosses the river on a floating platform on route to support local health centres. © Dale Koninckx/MSF

2. Management experience

As international staff, it is likely that you will be managing a team overseas, with responsibilities that include training staff, report management, disciplinary and performance management as well as supporting and developing your team in their own careers.

Therefore, it is essential that you have strong management experience prior to applying. Working with MSF overseas should not be the first time that you are in a role where you are managing a team.  

3. A second language

Many of our projects are in are French-, Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking countries, so being able to speak any of these languages to a level of B2 or higher will open many more opportunities for you to work with us overseas. Other languages such as Arabic or Russian are also highly desirable.

Dr  Nicolas Peyraud, paediatrician examines a patient in the intensive care unit.

A paediatrician examines a patient in the intensive care unit in Niger. © MSF/Laurence Hoenig

4. Adaptability and flexibility

To work in a country which may be unstable or experiencing conflict and build effective working and personal relationships with new colleagues, requires adaptability and flexibility.

The context you will be working in will have limited resources and will differ hugely to the resources that you may be used to in Australia or New Zealand. The health care infrastructure in the areas we work in have often fallen apart, so for medical professionals your clinical skills and judgement will be called upon without the technical equipment you may be familiar with. For non-medical professionals, you will draw on your problem-solving skills to work in the low-resource settings that are projects are in. As such, the ability to think on your feet, be resourceful and adaptable is very important for this type of work.

Additionally, before you go on assignment, you need to demonstrate your flexibility. We ask that you remain open to working in various countries, as MSF deploys international staff where the need is greatest and where there is a match with your skillset. Therefore, you need to be adaptable to which location you are placed in. Also, if you can be available for overseas assignments on short notice, it will significantly help our ability to place you on assignment.

5. Willingness to work in unstable environments

The nature of the work of MSF means that we send people to regions where there is a need for medical care and where communities have been impacted by conflict, natural disaster or epidemics. We require all candidates to be willing to work in unstable environments and contexts.  

To find out more about how to prepare your CV, the application process, and the salary and benefits for international staff, click below.