Doctors Without Borders: Heroes Who Heal Others

By Scott T. Allison and George R. Goethals

The most heroic people are often those who do their selfless work anonymously. They seek neither credit nor publicity. Guided by humanitarian motives only, these heroes genuinely want to make the world a better place, and they don’t think twice about invisibly making great sacrifices – sometimes even giving their lives – to help save others.

Doctors Without Borders is an organization composed of such heroic people. In doing our research for this blog post, we tried our best to identify the names of the doctors and journalists who founded Doctors Without Borders back in 1971. There is no historical account that we could find. Moreover, there is no listing of the current group of physicians who work without pay, often at great risk, to treat others. All of these heroic individuals prefer to remain anonymous.

Doctors Without Borders is known throughout most of the world by its French name, Médecins Sans Frontières. The organization is composed of doctors worldwide who are committed to bringing quality medical care to people in crisis. Doctors Without Borders was founded on the humanitarian principles of medical ethics and impartiality. The organization is completely neutral and provides medical treatment to people regardless of their race, religion, or political affiliation. It never takes sides in armed conflicts and provides care on the basis of need alone.

“We find out where the conditions are the worst – the places where others are not going – and that’s where we want to be,” says Nicolas de Torrente, Executive Director of the group. Doctors Without Borders is currently active in more than 60 countries, helping people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe. The volunteer physicians face supreme challenges in treating maladies resulting from malnutrition, epidemics, natural disasters, armed conflict, or exclusions from health care.

What exactly are these challenges? Volunteers for the organization have been hit by stray bullets, stepped on mines, and caught epidemic diseases. Sometimes they are attacked or kidnapped for political reasons. In some countries afflicted by warfare, humanitarian aid organizations are judged to be assisting the enemy, especially if an aid mission has been set up exclusively for victims on one side of a conflict.

More than 40 years after being founded, Doctors Without Borders continues to save lives across the globe. Most recently, in Ethiopian refugee camps, volunteers for the organization appear to be turning the tide against severe famine and disease. “When Doctors Without Borders opened the Hilaweyn clinic in August, children were dying of malnutrition at the rate of more than one a day,” said a Voice of America news source. “Two months later, the clinic’s emergency coordinator Aria Danika said they treat 1,000 cases a day, and only one child has died in the past two weeks.”

In 1999, Doctors Without Borders won the Nobel Peace Prize. We can think of no more deserving group of people. In accepting the award, then-president Dr. James Orbinski thanked the Nobel committee for affirming Doctors Without Borders’ pledge “to remain committed to its core principles of volunteerism, impartiality and its belief that every person must be recognized in his or her humanity.”

Below is a youtube clip that describes the heroic work of Doctors Without Borders in greater detail.

8 Responses to “Doctors Without Borders: Heroes Who Heal Others”


  • I had heard of this group before – but was unaware of the dangers ‘behind the scenes’ til reading this.

  • More proof that heroism is not restricted to an exclusive minority of people– it is inherent in Human nature. Unfortunately, things being the way they are, it is a lot easier to wreak havoc than to create peace. But organizations like Doctors Without Borders demonstrate why the present is better than the past, and that the future will be better than the present.

  • The members of Doctors Without Borders exemplify a characteristic that not all heroes do, and that is real humility. The work that they do is incredible; saving all the lives they do in places where the people would otherwise not be able to get help is humanitarian enough to give them the title of heroes. However, in remaining largely anonymous and doing their work solely for the purpose of helping others, the members of Doctors Without Borders become even greater heroes, because it is so clear that they are acting completely selflessly. They risk their lives to help others, and expect absolutely nothing in return. If that is not heroism, then I don’t know what is.

  • I think that the fact that I had never even hear of these heroic doctors before reading this blog is a testament to just how heroic these amazing people are. Day in and day out, these courageous people travel to dangerous, disease-infested, politically unstable locations to save lives and provide medical care to those who desperately need it. This would be a heroic feat for anyone to accomplish, yet what makes their efforts even more admirable is that they do it out of the goodness of their hearts, not for money, and not for recognition. These people are wonderful examples of unsung heroes as they put their lives at risk to save others, time after time after time. They did not manage to seize one heroic moment, but they continue to be heroes each and every time they provide medical assistance to those in need.

  • I have heard of Doctors Without Borders before, but reading about the organization has strengthen my view of these volunteers as heroes. Describing these people using the word selfless is an understatement. I believe that anyone who sacrifices their own time to travel to a place in crisis in order to help, cannot be called anything but a hero. The fact that their names cannot even be found shows that these volunteers need nothing in return for helping out people in need and that is truly remarkable. Although I knew about the organization previously, I never knew about the threats and risks these volunteers face when traveling to these countries in crisis. This post is eye-opening and inspiring, and it is comforting to know that there are still people who would risk their own lives for the sake of strangers.

  • I agree that the most admirable heroes are the unsung ones. It is clear that they do good out of the kindness of their own hearts and are not interested in the glamor or fame that can come along with the title of a traditional hero. Individuals who dedicate themselves to organizations such as Doctors Without Boarders are truly an inspiration to us all and we should all aspire to be as kind and giving as they are.

  • After working not only in the Heroes and Villains class this semester but also doing research on villains with Dr. Allison, I have looked at the hero taxonomy (presented in the recent post about the new book he and Dr. Goethals are coming out with) more than a few times. Transparent heroes, I realized, were always the category I used to forget in the beginning when trying to come up with all 10 at once. Now, however, after considering it more closely, I’ve realized that there are an infinitely greater number of heroes in our society that fit into this category, and the positive impact they have is immeasurable. We should begin to sing the praises of the unsung, invisible heroes because it is likely that they have impacted us all for the better.

  • One of the heroes I really admire and respect are DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS. They never demanded anything for what they do, they just work from their heart…. Whats amazing people. May God bless them.

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