At some point in their careers, many nurses — who are known for their compassionate and caring nature — seek ways to improve society beyond their jobs. Nurses may find that volunteering abroad, where people may have severely restricted access to medical care, is immensely rewarding.
Volunteering can also complement online nursing coursework and introduce nurses to different cultures and healthcare systems. Organizations and countries across the globe welcome the skills of volunteer nurses.
Nurses can find a number of volunteer opportunities at any time, with assignments ranging from two weeks up to one year. Nonprofit organizations and volunteer programs operate in developed and developing countries, and the needs of each program vary. However, volunteering frequently falls into one of two categories: disaster relief and public health outreach.
Disaster relief efforts, sometimes called medical missions, need nurses to assist in areas devastated by natural disasters or ravaged by war. Nurses often provide various types of medical care, such as triage and assessment, vaccination administration or distribution of food and medical supplies.
While disaster relief efforts are often more reactionary in nature, public health outreach tends to focus on preventive measures. Nurses may assume the role of educators, informing a country’s residents about ways to improve both personal and community health. These clinics may be in villages or local hospitals where nurses can demonstrate proper personal hygiene like handwashing or teeth brushing. Volunteer nurses may also travel throughout a country to reach more isolated areas, building makeshift clinics as necessary.
Since malnutrition is a common public health issue worldwide, volunteer nurses may provide education on this subject. The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund, or UNICEF, estimates that almost half of all deaths in children under five years old — approximately three million per year — are related to malnutrition. Poor nutrition makes it more difficult for children to fight off infection and can negatively affect children’s cognitive development and physical growth. To combat the issue of malnutrition, outreach volunteers may educate parents about the dietary needs of infants and children.
Affect Change by Volunteering
Most who participate in nursing volunteer opportunities abroad are doing so for the chance to help those in underserved or disaster-affected areas. However, nurses may find additional personal and professional benefits. Those who volunteer abroad may be able to develop clinical skills and expertise they would not find in a typical hospital back home. They may learn to diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries that are not frequently seen in the United States. The experience can be humbling, and it presents a unique perspective on how quality healthcare, both preventive and acute, can affect entire societies.
International hospitals may accept volunteers to work in positions that are not readily available to nurses in the U.S. Nurses may also gain experience working in areas where which technology is limited or unavailable. Traveling to various countries can also leave a lasting impression as nurses learn about other cultures and visit historical landmarks.
Throughout their employment, nurses touch many lives. Those looking to improve society beyond their everyday jobs may find volunteering abroad rewarding. Volunteer nurses have the opportunity to help the underserved and those affected by disaster while gaining valuable clinical and personal experiences.
Learn more about the UT Arlington online RN to BSN program.
Undernutrition contributes to nearly half of all deaths in children under 5 and is widespread in Asia and Africa. (2016, June). http://data.unicef.org/nutrition/malnutrition.html
Have a question or concern about this article? Please contact us.