7 Travel-Focused Medical Careers Beyond Hospital Walls

Staffing shortages aren’t new to healthcare. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s reported that over 100,000 nurses have left the workforce. While some of these healthcare professionals retired, a sizable portion pivoted their careers for a change of pace.

According to a 2022 survey of physicians, registered nurses, and advanced practice providers, 25 percent reported they were considering switching careers, with 89 percent citing burnout as the primary reason.

If you’re interested in a career change beyond hospital walls, but want to continue providing care to others, here’s an overview of medical jobs that travel and what to expect from these exciting roles.

What Is Travel Healthcare?

Many medical professionals might be familiar with travel healthcare through the recent buzz around traveling nursing. However, there’s an entire industry around medical care outside of established settings that provide numerous career opportunities for you.

For example, extreme medicine is the practice of delivering medical care in unconventional and challenging environments, such as conflict regions, disaster zones, remote wildernesses, or extreme weather conditions.

“The travel landscape is more vibrant than it’s ever been,” says Stephen Wood, program director for the extreme medicine certificate program at Northeastern University’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences. “Now that there’s more mobility for providers, there’s a real opportunity to provide health care in settings that might not have traditionally received quality care.”

Some causes for this recent mobility include:

One of the most important aspects of medical jobs that travel is the various ways they can be rewarding. For many of these career paths, you have the opportunity to empower communities to take agency in their own healthcare infrastructure.

Another possible benefit is the growing understanding of climate change’s role in health outcomes. Wood notes that traveling to these remote locations can provide a newfound love of the environmental side of health as well.

If this sounds like an exciting opportunity for you and your healthcare career, here’s a closer look at the most common medical jobs that involve travel.

7 Medical Career Paths That Travel

1. Remote Medicine

Remote medicine is the practice of medicine where access to medical services, support, and facilities is restricted or non-existent. This requires providing highly effective “basic” care to patients.

“You may not be able to do everything you can in an urban emergency department, but providing the basics of airway support, controlling hemorrhage, and wound care can make a huge difference in patient outcomes,” says Wood.

Some common job titles in this field include:

  • Remote doctor
  • Remote nurse
  • Remote paramedic

While these roles might sound similar to conventional healthcare positions, the remote nature of this career path requires highly specialized skills. For example, Wood talks about the need to problem-solve versatile uses for various materials.

“If you’re going to be remote, you can only carry so much equipment with you,” says Wood. “So everything you carry should have multiple uses.”

One common example of this is duct tape. While this material is commonly used for HVAC repairs, healthcare professionals can also use it to remove plantar warts, seal up holes in a tent, or even bind materials together to make splints. “It has multiple medical and nonmedical uses,” says Wood.

“Another great example is ski poles,” Wood continues. “We use them to hike and ski, but you can also use them during avalanche search and rescues to help poke the snow looking for victims. You can also use them as splints.”

2. Military Healthcare

Military healthcare is an excellent career option for medical professionals looking for a career change. In addition to the financial and educational benefits the military can provide, “they have an excellent track record of providing really high fidelity training,” says Wood.

With over 31 different types of medical and emergency jobs available in the U.S. Army, there are plenty of opportunities for medical professionals to make a difference across the globe.

“The training is really second to none,” Wood continues. “They’re also engaged in a lot of research around working in austere environments—everything from testing different clothing types to what medications are viable at certain temperatures.”

While military healthcare is an excellent option for people who want to travel, there are a few aspects you’ll need to consider before enlisting.

“There are some people who want more flexibility,” says Wood. “When you join the military, you have to provide them with your service time. And for some people, that’s not something they want to do.”

If that’s the case, there are several alternative options that provide similar extreme medicine training and research opportunities. For example, government agencies like the National Park Service and U.S. Border Patrol provide excellent training opportunities for this type of work.

3. Expedition Medicine

“Expedition medicine is the practice of medicine outside of a hospital in extreme environments,” says Eoin Walker, an advanced paramedic practitioner (APP) who has trained students in expedition and wilderness survival and has served as a pre-hospital delegate for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

These extreme environments can include:

  • Wilderness settings (e.g., national parks, remote forests, and mountainous regions)
  • Polar regions
  • Deserts
  • Tropical rainforests
  • Underwater environments (e.g., dive boats, submersibles, and underwater exploration)
  • High altitude
  • Space exploration

If you’re worried that you aren’t qualified for such an intense medical field, it’s important to remember that medical expedition jobs don’t necessarily align with traditional educational backgrounds.

“Expedition medicine is an experiential addition to your current career,” says Walker. As a result, many healthcare professionals discover expedition positions through colleagues, international travel, and community service projects providing aid during a crisis.

Expedition medicine can be an extremely exciting experience if you’re interested in being close to adventure and nature, but Wood urges professionals to thoroughly vet the organizations they’re considering.

“If you’re considering working for a company that you’re going to lead expeditions, you want to make sure the people going on these trips meet certain criteria of health and safety.”

4. Humanitarian/Disaster Relief

Humanitarian medicine aims to provide essential relief to those destabilized by crises.

Some of the most common reasons communities need this type of relief include:

  • Natural disasters (e.g., hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods)
  • Conflicts/wars
  • Epidemics and pandemics
  • Man-made disasters (e.g., chemical spills, nuclear incidents, and terrorist attacks)

Due to the nature of this career path, you’re often expected to travel all around the world to provide relief to various affected communities. However, there’s been a recent shift in humanitarian work that’s important to consider before applying to these jobs.

According to Wood, humanitarian work has traditionally consisted of short mission trips focusing on providing immediate relief. However, more organizations are shifting away from “short mission trips to more long-term, sustained infrastructure building to support communities in a more sustainable way,” says Wood.

As a result, there are even more job opportunities than before if you’re interested in medical humanitarian work.

5. Emergency Management

Emergency management is another viable career path for healthcare professionals interested in medical jobs that involve travel. While many jobs in this field are related to disaster relief, like humanitarian medicine, emergency management intersects with another subsect of extreme medicine.

Disaster medicine is a branch of healthcare focused on assessing public health risks, planning for future disasters, and implementing emergency strategies to aid recovery.

Since these career options are often related to planning and prevention, it’s no surprise that Wood suggests this field for professionals interested in leadership positions. As a result, it’s important to “focus on the inner dynamics that often influence whether you’re going to be a good leader or follower.”

Despite the various types of disasters that require emergency management leadership, understanding “how to address things like sleep deprivation, food scarcity, and psychological components are really applicable to how you should lead in these settings,” says Wood.

6. Film and TV Medical Support

Perhaps one of the more unknown career options for healthcare professionals is medical support positions in film and television. If this career option interests you, you’ll most likely need to search for roles like a set medic.

“There are a lot of people who work as set medics and that’s a whole industry with lots of opportunity,” says Wood.

These professionals often provide short-term care for smaller projects or long-term care for film units. While most sets need medical professionals on hand, set medics are often needed on sets in extreme or highly dangerous environments that could cause illnesses and ailments, or facilitating activities prone to serious accidents and minor injuries.

“For instance, World Extreme Medicine provides the medical coverage for the TV show Survivor,” says Wood.

7. Ship and Vessel Medical Support

Cruise ships and research vessels also offer unique and exciting medical career opportunities for healthcare professionals.

On cruise ships, medical staff play a vital role in providing healthcare services to passengers and crew members, treating a range of medical issues while at sea. “A lot of people work on cruise ships, providing medical support and medical care,” says Wood.

“It’s not just cruise ships, though,” continues Wood. Research vessels involved in scientific expeditions and exploration also require medical personnel to ensure the health and safety of scientists and crew members in remote environments.

“For instance, when National Geographic explores Antarctica, they require some kind of medical support,” says Wood.

These roles may involve conducting research-related healthcare assessments and addressing medical emergencies in isolated regions, making them ideal for those interested in combining healthcare with adventure and exploration.

Take the First Step Toward a Traveling Medical Career

Continuing your education is essential if you hope to start a medical career that involves traveling. While you may have foundational experience in providing care to patients in conventional settings, practicing extreme medicine requires additional skill sets that traditional healthcare programs don’t work to develop.

“Make sure you have a good educational foundation so you’re well-prepared to work in austere and resource-poor environments,” says Wood.

Northeastern University’s Extreme Medicine certificate program is specifically designed to train professionals for the most extreme career paths in travel healthcare. In addition to education, experience is essential to getting a career in extreme medicine.

“Gaining some practical experience through our experiential courses prior to going out and doing these things without any experience can be incredibly valuable,” says Wood.

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