It doesn’t seem like a day passes without news of a critical humanitarian crisis, whether natural or manmade. However, what we don’t always see are the people who are the first on the ground, working tirelessly behind the scenes to alleviate human suffering and deliver fundamental medical treatment to those affected.

We sat down with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders in English, an international, independent, medical humanitarian organisation that delivers emergency aid to those affected by conflict, epidemics, exclusion from healthcare and natural disasters.

Amna Haji, MSF’s Middle East HR Officer, talks to us to discuss how MSF’s recruitment operations have enabled them to continue doing the incredible work they have carried out since 1971. Amna has been part of the team at MSF since 2011 and has been key to recruiting and onboarding skilled professionals throughout the GCC region since September 2017.

Médecins Sans Frontières: How We Prepare Our Workforce For Crisis Environments

Interview Participants

Amna Haji

Middle East Hr Officer, MSF

Stephanie McKee (SM)

Interviewer

SM: Can you tell us about MSF’s mission in the region?

Amna Haji:

Within the GCC, MSF recruits heavily in order to support our operations globally. In regard to specific operations within the MENA region, MSF has been mobilised to support those affected by natural disasters as well as those living in unstable conditions and areas affected by war. The projects currently operating within the MENA region are both stable and non-stable, stable refers to a long term operation where we expect to be operational within that specific project for some time. Non-stable means our staff have been deployed there to assist with a specific issue and don’t anticipate the project to be long term. We also support a lot of developing countries within the region with specialised projects where we can lend our expertise, such as guiding the improvement of healthcare infrastructure.

SM: Why is MSF different from other medical NGOs?

Amna Haji:

MSF is unique in that it is completely independent. We aren’t privately funded, we rely on donations from companies and from individuals. This means that we are not tied to any affiliations or governments so we can operate completely impartially. Our commitment is to treat all people who are victims of a humanitarian crisis, regardless of race, religion or political standpoints, being independent enables us to do this.

Médecins Sans Frontières: How We Prepare Our Workforce For Crisis Environments

In terms of how we work, we hire everyone on our team to cover every aspect of our operations. This means we don’t outsource any of our projects, so everyone who deals with patients are hired solely by us, and those who support our medical staff within HR, operations and logistics have also been hired and trained by MSF. We’re also one of the first, if not the first, people on the ground whenever a crisis situation arises, so we have the ability to mobilise our teams and move quickly to provide first-response medical care.

SM: How is the application process at MSF different from applying for a typical, fixed-location role?

Amna Haji:

We are dedicated to hiring the best, skilled medical workers so aside from an in-depth technical assessment, the interview process also includes behavioural assessments and applicants are given access to footage of the environments they will be expected to handle. We recruit the best people this way and also highlight the need for these recruits to be entirely flexible, we don’t know where they will be posted next and they will be expected to deliver quality care within unfamiliar and trying environments. During their career at MSF, our team will work in many places, many different regions and situations. For this reason, we spend a lot of time thoroughly vetting potential recruits to make sure that they can cope in unstable, stressful scenarios.

SM: How are you able to recruit people quickly to resource MSF’s demands and what are the challenges you face?

Amna Haji:

As our onboarding process is quite lengthy, we are always recruiting for various roles around the world. We also have three different types of recruits that we can call upon and mobilise as needed. These include new recruits, experienced recruits who are awaiting their next mission and recruits who are ready to be matched for their first mission.

We are fortunate to have numerous locations and as we are a global movement we can pool resources depending on the most critical projects. The challenge is, of course, forecasting how much recruitment we will need, as the scenarios which require our presence often can’t be foreseen.

SM: What measures do you have in place to ensure that you have hired the best, qualified and experienced people for the role?

Amna Haji:

During the hiring process, we are completely transparent and fully outline our expectations – we need people who are flexible and can be posted wherever they are needed in the world while being able to cope with the demands of a stressful environment. The hiring process, as mentioned, is comprehensive, measured and evaluated.

We have a really knowledgeable, specialist team who can effectively assess the technical skills and knowledge of any potential candidates. We also have a mentoring system so that any new recruits are fully supported, during their induction process new hires are partnered with a Senior Field Coordinator who will support and guide new recruits during their first mission.

Once hired, our staff members can utilize our ‘Operations Cell’ which exists here in Dubai. This consists of our operations, HR, logistics and recruitment team and we all offer full support to our staff, with regular calls to check if they need anything from us or if we can help with anything.

Prior to all of this, we are of course reliant on screening candidates thoroughly which includes the use of TrueProfile.io, so we know that the people we hire have the correct qualifications.

SM: What’s the future for MSF in terms of career opportunities?

Amna Haji:

It’s really hard to tell as we can’t really prepare for growth, that’s dictated by where we are needed. We are dedicated to becoming more efficient in staffing, more diverse and to continue recruiting the right people. That’s one of the reasons we decided to open an office here in Dubai, to attract talented individuals from the region to MSF and make them aware of our mission globally.

For those who want to gain, hands-on, invaluable experience within their field then we encourage these professionals to reach out to us to discuss current opportunities. Visit Médecins Sans Frontières’ website to find out more about what life is like in the field.