by Ali Johnson

It’s no secret that Oklahoma is facing a nursing shortage. The ratio of registered nurses in the state is 700 RNs per 100,000 people — far lower than the national average of 1,150 per 100,000. In spite of this, many nurses are still volunteering to help international communities. Encouraging nurses to volunteer abroad may seem counterintuitive, but doing so can actually be better for our local community. Volunteering internationally is an enriching experience that enables nurses to build skills, widen their horizons, boost their confidence, and work with inspiring people who are passionate about making a positive impact in the world.
How Nurses Benefit From International Volunteering
Because nursing is such an in-demand skill all over the world, nurses can make a significant impact in almost any community they work in. However, nurses also have plenty to gain from the volunteer experience. In many ways, volunteering abroad can equip nurses to be more effective when they return home.
The mental and emotional health benefits of volunteering have been well-documented. Volunteering can extend your lifetime, forge strong social bonds, ease depression, and gain new skills. Nurses who volunteer abroad, in particular, are able to sharpen their skills in situations that need them to think on their feet, especially when they volunteer in developing economies.
Volunteering in developing countries teaches nurses things they wouldn’t have been able to learn in a typical classroom or hospital. Working abroad may also expose nurses to illnesses and conditions uncommon in the United States, giving them new perspectives that may be assets when they return back home. Volunteer nurses have the opportunity to pick up medical techniques from local staff, as well as share their own expertise in return.
These nurses may end up working in challenging circumstances that may not be present at home, such as not having running water or enough medical supplies. Many of these nurses are given more autonomy than they would’ve had back home. Thus, these circumstances challenge nurses to develop their critical thinking and decision-making skills.
Raising Awareness, Empathy, And Confidence
There’s no doubt that doing volunteer work abroad looks great on the resume. It shows potential employers that you’re resourceful, hard-working, and courageous. But apart from gaining more skills, volunteering abroad also fosters empathy in nurses.
Many nurses who are not exposed to other cultures express feeling unable to provide culturally sensitive care. By volunteering abroad, nurses also become more aware of different cultural practices around the world, helping them become more sensitive and tolerant. Nurses who volunteer in countries that do not speak English are also able to better relate to the frustration of their non-English speaking patients back home.
Volunteering abroad also helps nurses become more confident in their own abilities, and helps them view their work in a new light. It gives nurses gratefulness for the abundant resources they have back home, tremendous respect for medical staff who work with limited tools, and a greater sense of fulfillment. In many ways, volunteering abroad can transform a career into a calling.