During the 2011 National Nurses Week, a week the American Nurses Association honors every year from National Nurses Day, May 6, to Florence Nightingale’s birthday, May 11, four nursing students were given the opportunity to travel to Sierra Leone to work on a field mission for Mercy Ships.

Since 1978, Mercy Ships has delivered free health care and services to more than 70 countries in the developing world—taking their facilities and staff with them across the oceans on ships. The field mission welcomed four nursing students from Northwest University to prepare in Sierra Leone for the arrival of the largest non-government hospital ship in the world, with a crew of 450, the Africa Mercy.

From their campus near Seattle, Washington, the four students and their professor joined a team of 350 nurses from more than 40 countries who volunteer with Mercy Ships every year. Because Mercy Ships requires volunteer nurses to be registered nurses with at least two years of professional experience, the nursing students prepared on land for the ship’s arrival by gathering medical records for patients and testing day-workers from the local community, who volunteer on the ship, for tuberculosis. One future nurse says she left with an appreciation for the availability of health care in the United States; many of the people they helped in Sierra Leone do not have any hospitals nearby.

Mercy Ships has over 1,200 volunteers every year from a variety of professions, such as surgeons, dentists, cooks, and teachers. While surgical nurses volunteer for two weeks, patient care nurses can volunteer for eight weeks or longer. Students gained perspectives not normally absorbed from classroom lectures or even technical training.

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