Nurse Keith: When Nurses Volunteer

Nurse Keith: When Nurses Volunteer

When hurricanes and tornadoes come storming through cities and towns, you know that nurses are there to pitch in. If refugees need housing, food, and medical care, nurses are in the trenches doing what needs to be done. And when a potential pandemic means that thousands of people need to be vaccinated, nurses show up and take charge.

Most nurses have volunteerism in their blood – nurses step up to the plate whenever they’re needed. Whether it’s flying to Yemen with Doctors Without Borders or staffing the first aid tent at a breast cancer walkathon, nurses use their skills, knowledge, and expertise in the service of others.

Volunteering as service

Nursing is based on the magic of the nurse-patient relationship. In reality, the nurse’s “patient” can be either an individual or an entire group. For example, the patient may be a local elder needing first aid in the aftermath of a tornado. The “patient” can also be an entire community in need of a nurse’s assessment and triage skills in order to determine how the delivery of essential care will be prioritized during a disaster.

Checking vital signs or providing care at a local soup kitchen is as viable a form of service as assisting with eye surgeries in a rural Jamaican hospital for three weeks each winter.

Volunteerism can happen in a formal setting such as a mission to another country for a specific medical purpose. On the other hand, nurses often act individually as good Samaritans by assisting others in urgent and unexpected situations. A nurse may stop to provide first aid at the scene of a car accident or perform the Heimlich maneuver on a choking customer at a restaurant.

The career-building power of volunteerism

While volunteering feels good and results in very positive contributions to communities and society at large, it is also an excellent career-building tool for nurses or nursing students at any stage of their careers or education.

Having significant volunteer activities on a nursing resume demonstrates one’s values and community involvement, as well as a nurse’s passions and interests. A history of volunteering with the local homeless or in war-torn countries says something about the nurse in question.

There is great value in volunteering in terms of networking and meeting like-minded colleagues and peers. When taking part in large-scale efforts (for example: hurricane response or mass casualty situations), healthcare professionals work side by side under stressful circumstances. Strong bonds can be formed in such situations, and these relationships can lead to long-term relationships, mutual support, and camaraderie.

When in nursing school at any level, volunteer activities keep the nursing student engaged with the community while demonstrating how the nurse thinks beyond his or her own needs even while pursuing educational goals.

Peers and leaders from a nurse’s volunteer activities can be strong professional references, as well as reliable sources of information and advice in times of career transition. Letters of recommendation from a supervising physician with Doctors Without Borders or the American Red Cross can be a powerful part of a nurse’s professional portfolio.

Volunteerism is power

Volunteerism provides both personal and professional empowerment. Helping others is good for the soul, and documenting one’s volunteer activities is great for professional development and showing a well-rounded nursing career.

Nurses are at the heart of much volunteerism around the world for a reason, and any nurse can benefit in myriad ways from such powerful acts of selfless service.

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, speaker, consultant, author, and popular career columnist. With two decades of nursing experience, Keith deeply understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses. Keith’s two podcasts, RNFM Radio and The Nurse Keith Show, offer inspiration and practical support to nurses seeking to create meaningful, satisfying lives and careers. Keith’s message of savvy career management and professional satisfaction reaches tens of thousands of nurses worldwide. He can be found at

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