© Brendan Bannon
02 Oct 17 08 Jan 20

Self Assessment

When someone says MSF, people often imagine doctors risking their lives in dangerous surgical operations under wartime conditions. Providing primary care to populations in emergency situations is definitely challenging and while doing this work we encounter many problems, but on the other hand it is not always such a grand and heroic experience as people think.

Before filling out the application, we recommend that you carefully consider the reasons that have led you to this important decision.

  • Do you have overly romantic notions about what the job entails?
  • Is your decision based on sufficient information?
  • Do your motivation and values match MSF’s mandate and the nature of its missions?
  • Are you ready for the possibility that your expectations and ideas about field work will not be fulfilled?

You should know in advance about some of the problems encountered by MSF during its work and when living in an unfamiliar environment and in extremely challenging and stressful conditions, and you need to consider your own motivation, professional aspirations, and emotional balance.

Before applying

Before you submit your application, read carefully and consider the following information. You should be aware that we try to provide access to health care particularly to vulnerable population groups in countries where the following situations might exist:

  • Brutal human rights violations
  • Homosexuality may be a criminal offense under the law
  • Women, children, and men (depending on social, ethnic or tribal origin) might not have rights that are common and recognized in Western countries
  • Rape might be used as a weapon of war Infectious diseases and epidemics may occur frequently
  • People do not have access to essential medicines

MSF is looking for field workers with personal, technical, and professional qualities that allow them to easily adapt to different cultural environments, difficult living conditions, and stressful situations.

Two basic qualities that no MSF field worker can do without are flexibility and adaptability. We need staff who do not mind a changing environment.


The security of our staff is MSF’s top priority – our field workers often work in unstable areas where their lives may be at risk. Measures used to reduce the risk include security training, plans, guidelines and protocols that are customized to the security risks in each project.

While working in a field project, you represent MSF 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even when you are not on shift or when you are on vacation. You bear the responsibility not only for your own security but also for that of the entire team.

MSF’s security guidelines may restrict your freedom of movement or your contact with local inhabitants outside of working hours. Our staff must comply with any curfews in place, and outside of working hours they may be limited to staying on the MSF base. You should carefully consider these factors, especially if freedom of movement is important to you and you do not like to stay for a long time in the same place.

Please see the page dedicated to security in the field for more details.

Living Conditions

On MSF missions abroad, our staff must adapt to unusual food, types of accommodation pace of life, forms of entertainment, languages, and companions. In short, it is a different lifestyle, which can mean less privacy and relaxation than you are used to.

You will not have a private bathroom and you will probably not even be able to do your favourite sports while on mission. MSF projects are sometimes located in areas with difficult climatic conditions (extreme heat or cold, high humidity and heavy rains, or dry desert, etc.). It could happen that your accommodation will be a mud hut or a tent without air conditioning or a fan, and you will have to endure the presence of annoying insects, as well as cope with power outages and a limited selection of food – and all of this for several months.

On the other hand, it could happen that you live in a spacious house with good facilities, while you are helping people who struggle to survive day to day.

For some, living in such a contrast is very difficult. This is why it is good to ask yourself, before you submit your application, how important and necessary material comforts are for you.


Humanitarian work in emergency conditions entails many stressful situations that can also have a negative effect on your motivation. Such situations can include strained relationship with other team members, health problems, being away from family and friends at home, worries about security, frequent changes in the project, poor relations with local authorities, difficult living conditions and diet, and so on.

Consider how you handle the stress of everyday life. Be honest with yourself. If problems in normal situations worry you and you try to avoid them at all costs, then working for MSF is definitely not a good choice for you. As a member of the field team, you will be faced with problems or difficulties almost all the time.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you ever lived and worked for an extended period of time in a team composed of three to ten people?
  • Do you have good communication and facilitation skills?
  • Can you put aside personal problems in order to get the job done?
  • How does work stress affect you and how do you deal with it in a team environment?
  • Can you cope with difficult situations and circumstances? Have you had experience with this before?
  • Are you able to reflect on your own behavior and possibly change it, in order to manage a situation?


Personal and family life

Working abroad in remote areas usually means that you have to leave your loved ones for a long time, sometimes up to 12 months.

For some people, humanitarian work is a form of therapy or escape from a difficult personal situation. But this definitely not a good solution. Think about how your daily life is affecting your decision to leave your home for a year.

Also consider how work in a challenging environment will affect your psyche. Going on mission may seem like an exciting adventure, but you might feel completely different when you return from the field having experienced a variety of traumatic events. This may have an impact on both you and your loved ones.

Culture clash

Working in an unfamiliar cultural environment can often mean communication problems and misunderstandings. For example, you might work in a country whose people have a completely different approach to detailed work, responsible behavior, or personal space.

Previous experience living or working in developing countries is always an advantage. Tolerance towards people who act or think differently than you do is vital.

Try to honestly answer the question whether you can truly respect people with different beliefs and cultures, and share living space with them.


All the problems that we have mentioned on this page do indeed happen sometimes when working in a foreign environment. We hope therefore that you will give them serious consideration.

Since MSF began operating, thousands of field workers have done missions in its projects and most of them considered their experience to be very valuable, despite the difficult conditions. Many of these missions literally changed the field worker’s life.

Work for our organization is more of a statement than an adventure or a lucrative career step. Whoever decides to work for MSF should be doing it out of solidarity with those in need. Your presence alongside the suffering men, women, and children is for them a clear and very important message: "The world has not forgotten you."