How Nurses Can Use Their Training for Public Service & Volunteer Work

Nurses change lives every day with the healthcare work they are trained to do. Even when not on the clock in surgery, at the ER or local clinics, nurses also make a difference outside of work. Many have found that volunteering is a rewarding part of their lives.

Volunteering is a noble calling, much like nursing. No matter if it is motivated by altruism, a religious calling or the need to recharge away from work, volunteering allows participants to help others and help themselves at the same time.

Volunteer work also gives nurses a chance to network with area professionals and learn from others they may not otherwise encounter. According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health, many nurses view public service as “an integral component of their professional identity.”

Below are some volunteer opportunities that nurses can utilize to change lives outside of their healthcare organization.

Treating Patients in Need

Many communities feature free clinics that are understaffed and need extra help, but don’t have the budget to pay for that needed help. Nurses can volunteer their time at the free clinics to help patients in need who might not have health insurance or aren’t able to pay for treatment. They can also become nursing home volunteers, helping with elderly patients who need care and attention.

Nurses are often the first line of patient assessment, meaning they must be able to think critically and quickly. These skills translate well to a crisis center, such as a pregnancy crisis center, where women may be worried about themselves and their health.

By volunteering at a crisis center or even a homeless shelter, nurses can put their skill sets to good use, allowing them to help those who need it most.

Helping Other Organizations

Other organizations also need help. For instance,  a local animal shelter might need volunteers to come in and play with the cats and dogs or help with other animals. The local Boys & Girls Clubs often need adults to come in and play a mentoring role for youth who need it most.

Local food banks need help sorting food as well. Volunteering in these capacities can give nurses a chance to step back from their usual roles and feel refreshed, and maybe even help them avoid burnout at their jobs.

Volunteering Abroad

Around half of the world’s population lacks access to essential healthcare, according to a 2017 report from the World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO). In some regions of the world, just 17% of mothers and children in the lowest level of households in lower-income countries received basic maternal and child health interventions.

Volunteering with organizations like WHO, or Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), gives nurses the opportunity to help those who can’t access healthcare on a regular basis. MSF does pay, but the salary is “set so as to reflect the humanitarian spirit of volunteerism.”


Doctors Without Borders nurses may participate in mass vaccination initiatives or triage of refugees, according to their website. To be a nurse with Doctors Without Borders, several requirements must be met, including three years of professional experience, one year of supervisory experience, minimum commitment of 9-12 months and more.

Volunteering when Disaster Strikes

Volunteering in times of crisis is another way nurses can help. For example, during the 2010 earthquake that seriously damaged the infrastructure of Haiti, many nurses wanted to assist – a phenomenon called “spontaneous volunteerism.”

According to the American Nurses Association, though, it was difficult to figure out where to place those who wanted to help. The ANA suggests that nurses register with disaster relief organizations before disaster strikes, so that organizations like the Red Cross or Medical Reserve Corps can enter them into a registry. Being on an official registry can give volunteers security as well as workers compensation if it’s needed while they’re volunteering.

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