FAQs about overseas deployment
What do I need to know about working in a project of Doctors Without Borders?
- You are not applying for a single job position or project in a specific country, but for entry into a pool of possible employees for international projects.
- Once your application has been accepted and you are included in the pool, you will be assigned to a position in a project that is best suited to your individual skill set.
- Project assignments are a minimum of nine months, but generally last a full year. Exceptions are made for gynecologists, anesthesiologists and surgeons, for whom three-month assignments (or longer) are possible.
- We are in need of a wide range of professional profiles, not only in the medical field, but also skilled manual trade workers, logistics and administration professionals.
- All assignments are paid, and you will be employed with a contract that includes social security contributions.
What professions are MSF currently seeking?
Here you can find a list of professional groups we are currently seeking for our projects. At the moment, we are in urgent need of anesthesiologists, gynecologists as well as logistics- and technology managers. In each of the profiles listed on this website for both medical and non-medical professions, you will find more detailed information about duties and necessary requirements for assignments.
Why is a project assignment not possible for some medical professions?
Some professions are not needed for our projects. These include ophthalmologists, dentists, paramedics, geriatric nurses and occupational therapists. Due to the fact that most countries of where we have missions already have sufficient local personnel with a comparable level of training, medical-technical assistants and surgical-technical assistants are currently not required for our projects. In many cases individual professions such as paramedics or geriatric nurses are not recognized in the host country.
What kind of work experience do I need?
In order to work in an MSF project, you will need to have completed vocational training with at least two years of relevant work experience, within the last two years. Depending on your skill set and professional background, your tasks in our projects often include the supervision and training of colleagues on site. For this reason, you should have experience in professional administration as well as in training or continuing education. Experience in team leadership is also an advantage. Further specific requirements can be found in the individual job profiles.
Do I need to have had experience working or traveling abroad?
Travel or work experience in Asia, Africa, the Middle East or Latin America is particularly relevant for working on assignment with us. If you have worked or spent a longer period of time in these places, whether this was through work & travel or while studying or for individual trips, these experiences can be very helpful. In any case, you should already have some familiarity with different kinds of living conditions and be able to adapt well to them. Our assignments are very challenging and can only be managed if you have experienced or can assess conditions of extreme heat or cold, places lacking adequate infrastructure and other trying conditions. Those who want to work with us must also be prepared to be deployed to insecure regions in crisis, war zones, or places with high crime rates and barely functioning public institutions.
What language skills will I need?
Having already worked in a language other than German is definitely an advantage. Your English or French should be at least B2 levels as set out by the European Framework of Reference. Arabic speakers are particularly needed. Find more information about our language requirements here.
What personal qualities do I need?
Being on assignment in a project requires a high level of mental and physical resilience. Long working days and a 6-day week, basic accommodation and extreme climatic conditions should not deter you. Organizational and improvisational skills are also essential, as you will be working in an unfamiliar environment and it’s most likely that you won’t have kind of equipment you are familiar with from your previous job. The living conditions you will be facing will not always be easy. This requires a high degree of composure, team spirit and flexibility in dealing with new situations.
We also expect all employees to be willing to work in accordance with the humanitarian principles , charter and mission statement of Doctors Without Borders. Discriminatory or abusive behavior will not be tolerated.
What is a course in tropical medicine and where can I find more information?
Tropical medicine courses are offered by a variety of different organizations (e.g., medical schools or institutes) and the majority are for medical professionals. These tropical courses can vary significantly in scope and content, and often individual providers focus on one or more key topics.
The aim of a tropical course is to provide participants with basic knowledge about various clinical pictures that mainly occur in countries with tropical weather, as well as their treatment. In addition, many courses also cover the topics of basic health care, public health, child care and/or epidemiology.
We recommend that all medical professionals who do not have relevant work experience in a tropical environment attend a tropical medicine course - for some professionals, attendance at a tropical course is even a mandatory requirement if there is no relevant work experience.
A list of possible courses and their providers can be found here (all information without guarantee). In principle, you can also participate in a tropical course parallel to the application process.
Can I do an internship or voluntary work in a project?
Unfortunately, we cannot offer training opportunities in our projects. As a donor-funded organization, we plan our resources for missions as efficiently as possible and focus entirely on emergency medical aid. Large parts of our programs are also located in crisis areas or politically unstable regions. We therefore try to minimize the presence of international staff.
How can I prepare for an assignment while I am a medical student?
If you are thinking about working with us on a project sometime in the future, the broadest possible professional experience in hospitals such emergency room or pediatrics experience is a plus. Specialized knowledge in specific areas of medicine, such as the treatment of tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis or non-communicable diseases, as well as infectious diseases, nutrition and hospital administration is also highly advantageous. Students who have had continuing education programs in these areas are highly desirable. Other ways to prepare include working in a tropical country or obtaining a degree in tropical medicine, which is often a mandatory requirement for many medical job profiles. You should also ideally have worked in a teaching, leadership, or management role.
Is there a minimum and maximum age for deployment?
There is neither a minimum nor a maximum age for an assignment. What is important is that you are mentally and physically fit. All employees undergo a medical examination before their first assignment and are then routinely checked once every two years for their suitability for work in tropical regions, for example.
How much in advance of a possible deployment should I apply?
Ideally, you should apply four to six months in advance of a possible departure. Once you’ve successfully completed the application process, it may take some time until we have found a suitable project position for you. This means you’ll need to be patient and flexible, especially when it’s your first application.
How do I apply?
Please only apply if you fulfill the general requirements for project work in terms of professional experience, availability, language skills and experience abroad. You should have a detailed look at the different job profiles and match the requirements mentioned there with your skills and knowledge. If you meet the requirements for several job profiles, please apply for the profile that you find most interesting or in which you best fulfill the requirements. You will find all the necessary documents and the link to our application management tool on the occupational profiles we are looking for.
Can I also apply speculatively?
If you meet the general requirements but no job profile matches your qualifications, you can also submit a speculative application here. However, in practice, only very few job profiles not listed on our website can be considered for project collaboration.
What does the application process look like?
After receiving your application, we will send you a confirmation. After that, we will try to process your application in a timely manner. If your application is rejected, we will notify you by mail. Otherwise, we usually call you for an initial telephone interview. If that goes well, we will arrange an online meeting. During the interview, we’ll discuss your qualifications, motivations and ability to work under pressure in more detail. For some professions applicants are required to undergo professional tests. If the outcome of the interview is positive for both sides, we will include you in our pool and look for a suitable position for you in one of our projects. Please note: As a donation-funded organization, Doctors Without Borders unfortunately cannot cover travel expenses for the interview in Berlin.
Can I use my annual vacation days for an assignment?
Since our assignments are usually relatively long and can also start at short notice, it is usually difficult to work on a project during vacation time. Our employees are usually on assignment for nine to twelve months. In a few very individual cases this can be shorter, but always at least three months.
Even in those cases, however, it is still often not possible to predict in advance exactly when the mission will start. Emergency medical aid can only be planned to a limited extent, and sometimes only a few days pass between the start of an availability and the departure for a mission. In other cases, it can take months. It is therefore necessary to make flexible arrangements with employers regarding your absence.
Can I do an assignment during a sabbatical?
In principle, an assignment with MSF during an unpaid leave or a sabbatical can be possible. But it is important to note that, when assigned to a project with us, you will be subject to all applicable social security contributions, which may have implications for your existing tax and social security contributions. For this reason, we ask you to inform yourself in advance about the possibilities and special situations that may arise in the case of dual employment.
How can I convince employers to give me time off for a project?
There is no legal right to a leave of absence when working with us. If you want to work for us without having to quit your current job, you should think about what concrete advantages a leave of absence would bring for your employer:
An assignment with us will help you to grow both professionally and personally. On a professional level, you will be working with different tools and equipment, navigating unfamiliar infrastructure and learning new work processes. On a personal level, you’ll find yourself being pushed to your limits over the course of the assignment. The work you will be doing demands resilience, flexibility, initiative, organization and independence. The knowledge and experience you will have gained during the project assignment can be actively applied once you return to your previous job.
Do I need to be a resident of Germany to apply?
You do not have to live in Germany to apply with us. Doctors Without Borders Germany also handles applications from Poland, the Baltic States, Ukraine, Belarus and the western part of Russia. If your primary residence is in another country, you can find the Doctors Without Borders office that is responsible for your application here.
How long does it take from my application to the assignment?
After your application, it may still take a while until you are deployed. This depends on your qualifications and the needs of the projects. Please keep in mind: Vacancies in humanitarian emergency aid are difficult to plan, sometimes it takes longer to find a suitable position. This means that after a positive admission process, there may be a waiting period of several months until we have found a suitable project position for you. That’s why it’s important to apply with as much advance notice as possible before your actual availability.
Can I apply to a specific assignment country or project?
For organizational reasons, it is not possible to apply to work in a specific country, project or context. As an emergency medical aid organization, we have to be ready for quick action and therefore need employees who are also flexible with regard to their deployment location. Where you are deployed depends largely on your qualifications, field of expertise, language skills and time availability, and to the project positions that need to be filled. If it is not possible for you to work in a certain country – for example, due to an existing entry ban – please indicate this in your application.
How will I be prepared for an assignment?
Before your first assignment you will attend an international preparation course along with participants from different professions and countries. This course lasts for a week and gives you the required information about our organization, internal processes, protocols and guidelines. If necessary, you can also take part in a language refresher course. We will also provide you with detailed information about the project, the conditions on site, the security situation and the rules of conduct in the country of assignment. Advisors are available in our offices to assist you with whatever problems or questions you might have, both during and after your assignment. Our advisors can also help you with administrative issues.
What to expect while working on assignment
How much do I get paid on assignment for a MSF project?
As a donation-funded organization, we probably cannot offer you the kind of salary you are used to in Germany. You will receive an allowance as part of an employment contract to cover expenses while participating in the project. The starting salary is paid monthly and fixed for the first 12 months, regardless of the position for which you apply. Depending on the duration of the employment and the responsibilities assumed, the salary increases annually and is adjusted individually based on your professional qualifications and experience. If you have previous experience after longer assignments in humanitarian aid, the starting salary may be higher.
In addition to the salary, you will also receive a daily allowance while working in the project, how much this is, depends on the country of assignment. We also cover the travel costs for the flight to the project and back home and provide accommodation and meals on site during the assignment. In the run-up to the assignment, we also pay for necessary medical treatment such as vaccinations. We also cover the cost of visas and a comprehensive insurance package. You will also accumulate vacation time for each month in the project.
What will my work be like on assignment?
The work involved in each project is very different – depending on your job description and the country of assignment. The best way to get an idea of the tasks and life in the field is through our videos and project blogs. You can also find further information about working in the field here. Nurse and long-time country coordinator Helen O'Neill, says of the work: "An assignment with Médecins Sans Frontières is, in my view, the most gratifying and fulfilling job there is. Even if it was the hardest work I have ever done. There is not much in 'normal life' that can compares to this experience."
What are the living conditions like on site?
During emergency assignments, it’s possible that you may have to share a large tent with several other members of staff for a short period of time. At the same time, we strive to offer our project staff as much privacy as possible. Normally you will have your own room or hut. The kitchen, common rooms and bathrooms are usually shared with other staff members. Meals, laundry and other household chores are usually taken care of by colleagues employed for this purpose. In many projects, there may be fluctuations in the power and internet supply, so that contact with family, friends and acquaintances may be limited.
Am I entitled to vacation during the assignment?
Vacation days are contractually regulated based on applicable labor laws, but the actual possibilities to take vacation vary from country to country and depend on the security situation, resources and tasks. For visa and insurance reasons, it is not always possible to leave the project country. Since the work in the field is very strenuous, with long working days and often six-day work weeks, most projects also offer ‘rest & recreation’ phases, the length and location of which are determined by the project.
What costs do I have to cover myself when I go on assignment?
Visa, vaccinations, insurance, transportation, food and accommodation are paid by Doctors Without Borders. Any additional expenses for daily necessities can normally be covered by the daily allowance in the country of assignment. You only have to cover your vacation costs yourself. If you would like to stay in the project country or in neighboring countries after your assignment for private reasons such as vacations, we cannot cover the costs for a return flight at a later date.
What about insurance during my assignment?
Our project employees are covered by comprehensive private international insurance. In addition to international health insurance, this includes a travel recovery service, disability insurance, life insurance, luggage insurance, and private and professional liability insurance.
Can I bring my family or partner on assignment?
Through our many years of work, we know that it is important to initially place project employees individually. Experience has shown that it can be difficult for team life and team integration when couples work together on a project. Especially if it is the first assignment in humanitarian aid for both of them.
Once each partner has gained individual work experience, we are happy to try to accommodate the request for joint work in a project. However, the success of a joint placement also depends on the qualifications – two doctors, for example, are more difficult to place in the same project than a doctor and a nurse or logistics manager. A joint departure is therefore more of an exception rather than the rule. For security and organizational reasons, departure with other family members such as children is not possible.
Can friends or relatives visit me during deployment?
Unfortunately, it is not possible to have friends or relatives visit staff while on assignment. However, you can use the vacation days to meet with family or friends depending on the situation, for example, in a neighboring country.
After your assignment
What kind of support can I expect from Doctors Without Borders once I return?
Returning home after several months on a project is not always easy. It often takes time to settle in and get used to life at home again. Experiences from an emergency aid mission in a crisis area can also have a long-term effects that make themselves felt psychologically later on. In order to help them come to terms with their experiences, independent psychologists conduct confidential individual interviews with all employees after their return. We also provide further professional psychological support if needed. A detailed debriefing with our employees also helps them to reflect on what they have experienced.
There is a group of former colleagues who check in on returnees from our projects. These colleagues are specially trained and offer the opportunity to talk confidentially about positive and negative experiences during the assignment. These can sometimes be difficult to talk about with family and friends. We also offer various events such as training and members' weekends and regular get-togethers. Here, project staff can network with each other and exchange experiences.
What career opportunities are available at Médecins Sans Frontières?
We are very interested in providing you with long-term employment and offer you opportunities for advancement within the project work. As a doctor, for example, you will be responsible for basic medical care during your first assignment. As your project experience grows, however, you will take on more and more coordination tasks and responsibility. For this purpose, we offer you various internal training courses, depending on your specialty. These can be special medical courses, but also logistical and technical training as well as management courses at various levels. Some former employees have also successfully applied for jobs in one of our offices in Germany or in another section after completing their assignments abroad. From here, they make a valuable contribution to the coordination of our worldwide operations through their experience with the projects.
Who can I contact if I have further questions?
If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact our team: by mail to personal @berlin.msf.org or by phone +49 30 700 130 205. You are also welcome to participate in an online webinar specifically for single job groups (in English), or to attend one of our general info evenings. These information events take place regularly in various German cities as well as online (the language is usually German). At these events you can learn more about our assignments and talk directly with our employees.
From the projects
From conflict zones to epidemics, our staff and patients are facing crisis situations around the globe. Read our blogs and find out what life is like on the frontline of the world's medical emergencies.