Career Pathways & Education

How to Find Nursing Volunteer Opportunities – Local and Abroad

Ashley Elsbernd BSN, RN, RNC-NIC, CCRN
December 1, 2020
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The nursing scope of practice, as we know, extends far beyond the bedside. From stopping on the slopes when you see a fellow skier fall to answering the familiar “consult texts” and telling your friend that yes, they should see their doctor for that rash, our nurse brains are on nearly all the time. 

While it’s indisputable that we need to maintain a little distance from work when we’re not at the bedside, many of us are personally invested in various causes and want to put our nursing skills to use outside of work.

Nursing and Medical Volunteering

Volunteering is not only a great way to do so, but it’s also a way to get involved with some of the causes that are near and dear to our hearts, meet new friends, and really feel like you’re making a tangible impact in your community. It can also be a chance for us to share some of our passions with family and friends, since many organizations work with medical as well as non-medical volunteers. 

There are endless types of opportunities depending on what you’re interested in diving into, as well as many options for location—local, domestic, or international—so it can be overwhelming to know where to begin. 

foreign children laughing in photo nursing volunteer opportunities

Starter Options for Nurse Volunteers

Fortunately for many of us, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities available right in our backyards. Some of the easiest opportunities to find might be on your hospital’s calendar of events! Many hospitals, especially in larger communities, have a big presence at local events, and some may even host them.

Most commonly, this includes having a booth at a community event or a health fair. Volunteering to sit at the booth can have various responsibilities associated with it from passing out band-aids to answering questions, but it could be a great place to start. 

Other local opportunities may include being part of the health and safety team at events such as races or rodeos, or volunteering for local organizations serving people with disabilities such as Special Olympics. These types of events often have a volunteer medical team on standby to treat minor injuries if you’re specifically looking to put your nursing skills to use.

Local and Domestic Volunteer Opportunities as a Nurse

If you’re looking for something local that is a little further removed from the bedside, there are plenty of local and domestic organizations that heavily rely on volunteers to keep things going. Regardless of the size of the facility, many hospitals and care centers have volunteer offices with various ways to get involved. 

This might include doing crafts with kids, delivering flowers and cards, bringing your well-trained pup as a visiting therapy dog, or rocking NICU babies. For those who prefer to step out of the hospital (hello, work/life balance), volunteers at organizations such as Donor Alliance and Be the Match are not directly involved with patients, but play a crucial role in helping to educate and provide information about life-saving organ and bone marrow donation registries. 

There are also local chapters of larger, national or international organizations that are a good way to get your foot in the door for bigger involvement later. One example is Project CURE, whose volunteers collect and sort medical supplies that are taken to be used on medical mission trips.

view from above are large seaside city nursing volunteer opportunities

International Volunteer Opportunities as a Nurse

If you’re looking to really branch out to both use your skills and experience a different part of the world, there are countless organizations that take medical mission trips whose success depends on volunteer involvement. 

There are groups that provide everything from primary care to highly specialized surgical procedures, and they travel to a vast number of countries worldwide. Some will pay for their volunteers to go while others require fundraising.

Finding the right trip is key to making the experience impactful and unforgettable, and again, there are an overwhelming number of options. A few organizations that I’ve heard wonderful things about are OneWorld Health, AYUDA (American Youth Understanding Diabetes Abroad), Medical Ministries International, Hospital Loma de Luz, Mothers Without Borders, Kenya Relief, and Passion to Heal.

Of course, I would be remiss not to mention that volunteering is an incredible way to boost your nursing resume. Whether that is for the purpose of going back to school, getting a new (or your first) job, or climbing the clinical ladder, volunteer experiences show initiative and where your passions lie as well as speak volumes about your key skills and motivators.

nurse ashley elsbernd on medical mission trip in africa finding a nursing volunteer opportunity
Ashley Elsbernd, RN on a recent medical mission trip.

At the end of the day, the volunteer opportunities you choose to pursue should really play into your individual interests and passions. In my experience, it’s fun to grab a friend or two and find someplace to volunteer together! As nurses, it’s in our blood to want to make a difference and give back. 

We do that in countless ways during every single shift that we’re working at the bedside. Volunteering gives us a chance to continue that impact on a broader scale, and I think you’ll find the experiences may make an even bigger impact on you.

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