Making an Impact by Volunteering Abroad

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Nurses who study, intern, and work close to home may have countless opportunities to learn and build relevant skills. Those who take their experience overseas and volunteer as nurses abroad, however, may have the chance to enhance their abilities while providing medical care in areas that need it the most. Discover what nurses can do abroad and learn how nursing students can make an impact by volunteering overseas.

Where and How Nurses Can Volunteer Overseas

A nurse volunteer
Image via Flickr by CDC Global Health

Around the globe, over 14 developing nations welcome nurse volunteers to assist with pressing medical needs. In Central and South America, nurses can volunteer in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Peru, and Argentina. In Asia, volunteer nurses can seek opportunities in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, and Vietnam. In Africa, nurses can work abroad in Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Kenya.

In most cases, it is not necessary for nurses to have completed either a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree before pursuing one of these volunteer opportunities. Student nurses are always in high demand, and those who have enrolled in BSN to DNP online programs may be ideal candidates for overseas nursing programs.

Both student and professional nurses tend to keep busy schedules, but most volunteer programs offer options that meet a variety of time-based needs while enabling participants to make the greatest impact. Volunteer programs can last from two to 24 weeks, so nurses can easily find a program that works with their schedule and goals.

How Nurses Can Make an Impact When Working Abroad

From providing general medical attention to sharing specialized skills, volunteer nurses can make an impact in several ways. When seeking placement through International Volunteer HQ, for example, nurses may work in hospitals, clinics, or even assisted living homes. They may also have the opportunity to assist with public health campaigns, an experience that could be ideal for students working on their BSN to DNP degree who are considering a career in administration or policy.

Nursing students who have already decided on a specialty may even have the chance to hone their skills while providing medical attention in one of several focused areas. From public health and nutrition to midwifery and pediatrics to physiotherapy and orthopedics, volunteer nurses may work in one of many specialized clinics. Some may even specialize in HIV/AIDS support or emergency medicine.

The types of tasks nurses can do while volunteering may vary widely from program to program. For instance, some nursing students may spend their time providing essential patient care in high-demand areas. In these settings, they may take vital signs, dress wounds, and prepare equipment. Volunteer nurses may also offer emergency care, gynecological services, or speech therapy.

No matter where or how they volunteer, nurses abroad can make an economic impact, since they provide in-demand services and skills without receiving financial compensation for their work. According to PublicHealth, American volunteers contributed over 8 billion hours of service in 2009, equaling about $169 billion worth of wages. Around the globe, volunteers contribute the equivalent of nearly 21 million full-time jobs, or nearly $400 billion worth of work.

While the economic impact that volunteer nurses provide is substantial, the social impact is also significant. When volunteering their skills abroad, PublicHealth explains, nurses join and enhance a global community and a cohesive network that has the potential to stretch around the globe. Since few volunteer organizations exist as completely independent entities, most rely on strategic partnerships with local governments, community groups, and even area businesses. Together, these organizations, agencies, and companies form a network that volunteer nurses continue to build.

Volunteer nurses can also make an environmental impact when working abroad. Many nonprofit health care organizations seek to pioneer environmentally friendly programs with eco-conscious methods and supplies. By contributing to these initiatives, volunteer nurses may help to improve the local community’s impact on the planet while also promoting an environmentally conscious approach for the health care profession around the globe.

How Nurses Can Benefit From Overseas Volunteer Experiences

While patients in developing countries stand to benefit substantially from the services and skills that volunteer medical professionals provide, nurses may also find numerous advantages while working abroad. For example, when volunteering in developing countries, nurses can gain invaluable experience that extends far beyond what they might learn in a classroom or even through an internship in their local area.

When working in these areas, nursing students may have significant autonomy, which can help them build critical decision-making skills as they develop experience in fast-paced environments. Nurses may also learn to overcome significant challenges that they would be much less likely to encounter closer to home, such as a lack of running water or unstable electricity.

When working in an overseas environment, volunteer nurses are also likely to encounter life-changing cross-cultural exchanges. Not only may nurses abroad learn how to diagnose and treat diseases and conditions that are uncommon in the United States, but these aspiring medical professionals may also develop increased cultural sensitivity. This experience may benefit student nurses both personally and professionally, and it may provide them with the tools they need to care for a more diverse group of patients later in their careers.

Nursing students who volunteer abroad may also develop a greater awareness of how the environment impacts health. Whether volunteer nurses go on to work in clinical settings or in administrative roles, this understanding of how unsanitary conditions or environmental issues affect wellbeing may enable nurses to take a more comprehensive approach to health care.

Volunteer nurses at any stage of their studies or their careers may also benefit from a unique sense of fulfillment. As Go Abroad explains, nursing students with international travel experience tend to gain improved efficacy, self-confidence, and cultural acceptance, which may help them achieve greater satisfaction and contentment in their health care careers.

To pursue a career as a nurse, education and experience are essential. Volunteer opportunities could be helpful during or after you pursue your online Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. By volunteering abroad, you may have the opportunity to turn a rewarding career into one that is truly life changing.


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