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Moral experience of Canadian health care professionals in humanitarian work
Prehospital and Disaster Medicine (2009)
  • Matthew R Hunt, University of Montreal

Introduction. Expatriate health care professionals frequently participate in international relief operations that are initiated in response to natural disaster or humanitarian emergency in low resource settings. This practice environment is significantly different from the context of health care delivery in the home countries of expatriate health care professionals. Human rights, public health, medicine and ethics intersect in distinct ways as health care professionals provide care and services to communities affected by crisis. Statement of question addressed: The purpose of this study is to explore the moral experience of Canadian health care professionals during humanitarian relief work. Methods: This is a qualitative study with 18 semi-structured individual interviews based on Interpretive Description methodology. There are two groups of participants: 1) 15 health care professionals (9 doctors, 4 nurses, 1 nurse-practitioner and 1 midwife) with more than three months experience in humanitarian work and 2) three individuals who have experience as human resource or field coordination officers for humanitarian non-governmental organizations. Participants were recruited by contacting non-governmental organizations, advertisement at the global health interest group of a national medical society, word of mouth, and a snowball sampling approach where participants identified healthcare professionals with experience practicing in humanitarian settings who might be interested in the research. Results: Five central themes were identified during the analysis. Issues related to moral experience include: examination of motivations and expectations, the relational nature of humanitarian work, attending to steep power imbalances, acknowledging and confronting the limits of what is possible in a particular setting, and recognition of how organizational forms and structures shape everyday moral experience. Discussion: Humanitarian relief work is a morally complex activity. Health care professionals who participate in humanitarian relief activities, or who are contemplating embarking on a humanitarian project, will benefit from carefully considering the moral dimensions of this work. Humanitarian organizations should address the moral experiences of health care professionals in staff recruitment, as they implement training prior to departure, and in supporting health care professionals in the field.

Publication Date
Citation Information
Matthew R Hunt. "Moral experience of Canadian health care professionals in humanitarian work" Prehospital and Disaster Medicine Vol. 24 Iss. 6 (2009)
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