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The late 20th and early 21st centuries have been marked by rapidly increasing interest in and provision of humanitarian work. The number of organisations with expertise in disaster and emergency relief
increased fivefold in the early 2000s.1 Currently, there are between 3000 and 4000 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the Northern industrialised states operating internationally, including development, relief and social organisations.2 Worldwide, around 19 million people are employed by some kind of NGO and engaged in humanitarian efforts.3 There is greater public visibility of humanitarian emergencies, natural and manmade alike; coverage of events such as the Sri Lankan tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti and Arab Spring highlights the immense human cost of humanitarian crises, increasing awareness and interest in relief work.4–6 While international health experience was once a fringe element in medical practice and education, it is now more widespread and acknowledged for its valuable contribution of increasing understanding of international health issues, and diversifying practitioners’ capabilities
and contributions to this field.7–9 Limited literature exists to characterise, define and describe the population of medical aid workers, and assess their experiences and the conflicts they face with potential impact on the overall aid community.3 10–12 The humanitarian field itself is heterogeneous, with organisations varying widely in affiliations and philosophies.
Potential discordant interests—among different aid organisations and/or individual aid workers—due to differing motivations, perspectives, training and competencies may contribute to high turnover and burnout rate. These have critical implications for the nature and quality of humanitarian interventions, as well as the prospects and expectations of the profession itself seeking to retain professional aid workers and maintain expertise,13 14 and may impede proper interagency and intra-agency collaboration and coordination, and adversely impact the overall Batimastat effectiveness of aid operations.15 16 Characterising shared understanding, attitudes and experience provides an opportunity to reinforce collective motives and efforts, and enhance synergy, human resource support and overall humanitarian efforts. Using qualitative data is one of the best ways to elicit relevant information from participants’ perspectives, especially regarding philosophical and ideological underpinnings of their work.