Who we are

Our commitment to comprehensive, patient-centred care doesn’t only ensure the best possible outcomes, it’s the right thing to do. It’s a value that’s at the heart of every medical volunteer we select, regardless of which of the more than 80 countries they call home.

It’s who we are.

Cathy Cheonga showing getting baby Julita used to what happens before her cleft surgery. Photo: Margherita Mirabella

We are open-minded and accepting of cultural diversity, understanding that flexibility and humility are the keys to problem solving in challenging, fast-paced environments. We value the opportunity to learn from and share skills with some of the world’s most talented, dedicated and innovative medical professionals.
We understand that while our volunteerism has the power to change our lives and bring us together as lifelong friends, we come together to change the lives of people affected by cleft who lack access to essential, safe surgical care.

Building capacity

You can volunteer to mentor and provide training

I am volunteering because I have a deep interest in helping others. The work Operation Smile is doing in Ethiopia means so much. Many people live as society’s outcasts because of the problems they have – they do not realise these are problems that can be fixed. To volunteer is very rewarding… Volunteering with people from other parts of the world also allows me to build my experience and knowledge.

Abreham Haddis, Biomedical Technician, Ethiopia

What we do

Operation Smile medical programmes are almost entirely volunteer-based, so we rely on medical professionals who can take charge of their roles with confidence, conviction and world-class skill. These traits have made Operation Smile a global leader in performing safe cleft surgery in
resource-limited environments for more than three decades.

Guided by our Global Standards of Care, medical volunteers must be able to work as a team to balance the highest possible quality of care with the efficiency to serve as many patients as our time and resources will allow.

This demands stamina – physically, mentally and emotionally – as long hours and a fast pace are expected of our volunteers. Our work also requires travel to locations across the globe, which presents its own set of demands and challenges.

Surgeries at OS Centre in Colombia

Short-term surgical programmes at a glance

  • Short-term surgical programmes are usually 10-12 days long.
  • After you apply and are approved, you will need to sign up to the Volunteer Portal to express can indicate interest in surgical programmes and keep your records up to date.
  • The recruitment of international volunteers usually takes place two to four months prior to a surgical programme.
  • Flight and accommodation costs are covered by Operation Smile.
Medical volunteer shares mum's joy with the results of the cleft surgery

Medical volunteer FAQs

Operation Smile’s Resident Leadership Programme has been an important part of our organisation and a signature programme for our education team dating back to 2009.

As Operation Smile continues to grow to meet the needs of our patients and their communities, as well as the health workers who serve them, we continually evaluate programmes within the education portfolio as we evolve our strategy. To better serve our patients while also growing sustainable surgical ecosystems, we have paused the Resident Leadership Programme at this time. 

We offer our deepest gratitude to the past sponsors of the program, the Regan family through the Harbourton Foundation and Stryker, which enabled Operation Smile to build the skills of over 1,000 surgeons, paediatrician’s and anaesthesiologists from 57 countries. Operation Smile remains committed to the training and education of health care workers around the world, and our programmes will continue to provide opportunities to elevate the skills of these providers.

Programmes are usually 10 days long but may at times require additional travel time to get to/from the programme site. Volunteers are financially responsible for any costs incurred for visas, immunisations, checked baggage, dinners during the programme, and any other incidentals like phone/internet charges at the hotel, taxis, souvenirs, etc.

A member of the volunteering team will be in touch with you to coordinate your availability with our programme needs.

Please bear in mind that to be in compliance with Operation Smile’s Global Standards of Care, programme teams must have a balance of new and experienced Operation Smile volunteers.

This means that there may be fewer positions available in each specialty for new volunteers throughout the year, but we will do our best to get you on your first programme as soon as possible.

Once you have been confirmed to a programme, we will send you all information providing all necessary details regarding the programme. There are also forms that must be read, signed and returned. Volunteers will be advised of the expectations well in advance.

Processing a new volunteer application can take between 8-12 weeks on average.

You can start by completing the form to register your interest. A member of the team will get in touch to discuss if there are any volunteering opportunities that match your speciality.

If we are recruiting for your medical specialty, you will need to complete a volunteer application form and included any supporting documentation, each application is reviewed by the UK Medical Sub-committee to ensure that we continue to provide the best clinical care possible to every patient.

The application will then be sent to our headquarters office in the US to be approved and credentialed. If you have any questions please feel free to contact our volunteers department at 020 3475 5126 or by email at volunteers@operationsmile.org.uk

All of the medical specialties accepted are based upon clinical experience and education.

Paediatric experience is required and our nurses must have experience working in a medical/surgical Unit, PICU, NICU, PACU, operating theatre, or A&E during the past two years.

Operation Smile adheres to Global Standards of Care and ensuring the safety of our volunteers and patients is of the utmost importance. Therefore we require our medical volunteers be active in their profession. We will accept retirees for up to two-years post retirement as long as the credentials are current and some form of education and applicable work (if only part-time) is continued.

While ODPs play an important role in patient care in the United Kingdom, unfortunately licensing requirements from other countries preclude us from having ODPs in our programmes at this time.

In recent years our demand for international dental volunteers has decreased significantly due to successful training initiatives for local dental volunteers across our programme countries.

While it is a testament to our sustainable development strategy, unfortunately it does mean that we are currently unable to accept dental applications.

We utilise medical volunteers in the following roles: anaesthetists/paediatric anaesthetists, operating theatre, recovery room and pre/post-operative nurses, paediatricians, surgeons (plastic, oral maxillofacial, and cleft), paediatric cardiologists, paediatric intensivists and neonatologists. We also accept certified child life specialists/hospital play specialists, speech and language therapists, and biomed technicians. Areas such as administration, clinics, OB, psychology and schools generally do not meet this criteria.

Therapeutic play helps heal

Play to recover Cathy has been an Operation Smile volunteer for five years and has volunteered on six surgical programmes,…
Operation Smile's child life specialist, Cathy Cheonga, comforts Gertrude, before her cleft surgery.
Cathy Cheonga showing getting baby Julita used to what happens before her cleft surgery. Photo: Margherita Mirabella
Read more

Volunteer programme contacts

Please get in touch if you have any questions about volunteering for Operation Smile.


Liz Baldwin

Volunteer Support Manager

020 8059 6620