What skills would you recommend gaining before applying to work for MSF?
I cannot stress enough how important managerial skills are on assignment. Most international positions require team management skills, which can be the part of the job that people find the most challenging. Being a good manager, making difficult decisions, having difficult conversations, and the ability to motivate diverse teams of staff, often in challenging conditions, will all contribute significantly to the success of the project.
Another essential quality is having work experience in remote or low-resource settings. You need to be resourceful enough to work with the tools that are available, and continue to work effectively under both physically and mentally challenging conditions. For instance, medical staff may find that they do not have access to the tools, or even medications, that they might have at home. They may be the only senior doctor on staff, have no colleagues alongside them to collaborate with (although there are technical advisors available), and they may very well be presented with medical conditions that are much more advanced than they would see in Australia or New Zealand. The ability to work quickly and independently with the resources available cannot be overemphasised.
It’s also important to be able to adapt to your living and working circumstances. During my time with MSF, I have lived in guesthouses with bucket showers, shared rooms, little privacy or no hot water. The most challenging environment I lived in was on a project in northeastern Nigeria where, due to security considerations, we were not allowed to leave the building. This meant we lived and worked in the same building for three months and the only outside area we had access to was the car park. Therefore, it’s important that if you’re considering applying to work with MSF, you have the ability to manage your own physical and mental wellbeing within these types of environments.
Can you tell us about one of the most challenging parts of working overseas?
For me, the most challenging part of working overseas is needing to be flexibile and adaptable to the assignments you are placed on. You need to be able to roll with any changes and not get too attached to the project you are being sent to, as it may very well change at the last minute. MSF will place you on an assignment where you are most needed, so you shouldn’t have your heart set on going to a particular country or context.