Title

Characteristics, determinants and perspectives of experienced medical humanitarians: A qualitative approach

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date

1-1-2014

Journal

BMJ Open

Volume

4

Issue

12

DOI

10.1136/bmjopen-2014-006460

Abstract

© BMJ Publishing Group. All rights reserved. Objective: To explore the characteristics, motivations, ideologies, experience and perspectives of experienced medical humanitarian workers. Design: We applied a qualitative descriptive approach and conducted in-depth semistructured interviews, containing open-ended questions with directing probes, with 44 experienced international medical aid workers from a wide range of humanitarian organisations. Interviews were coded and analysed, and themes were developed. Setting: International non-governmental organisations (INGOs) and United Nations (UN). Results: 61% of participants were female; mean age was 41.8 years with an average of 11.8 years of humanitarian work experience with diverse major INGOs. Significant core themes included: population's rights to assistance, altruism and solidarity as motives; self-identification with the mission and directives of INGOs; shared personal and professional morals fostering collegiality; accountability towards beneficiaries in areas of programme planning and funding; burnout and emotional burdens; uncertainties in job safety and security; and uneasiness over changing humanitarian principles with increasing professionalisation of aid and shrinking humanitarian access. While dissatisfied with overall aid operations, participants were generally satisfied with their work and believed that they were well-received by, and had strong relationships with, intended beneficiaries. Conclusions: Despite regular use of language and ideology of rights, solidarity and concepts of accountability, tension exists between the philosophy and practical incorporation of accountability into operations. To maintain a humanitarian corps and improve aid worker retention, strategies are needed regarding management of psychosocial stresses, proactively addressing militarisation and neo-humanitarianism, and nurturing individuals' and organisations' growth with emphasis on humanitarian principles and ethical practices, and a culture of internal debate, reflection and reform.

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