As a brand new nurse, I was stuck in a hard place. When applying for jobs, the most common statement said to me was, “You need a year’s experience.” How do you get the year’s experience if no one is willing to take a chance on you?

The answer: Volunteer! I had always wanted to go abroad and help those less fortunate. Luckily for me I was able to get nursing experience that helped me professionally as well!

My Experience

I was able to volunteer as a nurse through LDS Charities on the USNS Comfort, a Navy hospital ship that travels to countries in Central and South America giving free services to the locals. There are three primary activities that nurses assisted with: surgeries onboard the USNS Comfort; medical clinics with general practitioners, pediatricians, optometrists, and dentists; and education.  Approximately 20 surgeries were performed per day and 1,000 people were treated at the medical clinics. Education topics included neonatal resuscitation, public health, water purification, amongst other health issues.

One of my most rewarding experiences was shared by LDS Charities: “In Colombia, Lenberg helped 12-year-old David with massive burns on his hands, face, arms, legs, and back; he also had a massive infection on one hand and contractures (shortenings of muscle, tendon or scar tissue that cause deformity) in his fingers on the other hand. Lenberg said she tried “so, so, so hard” to get the boy in for surgery the next day, but was unable to do so because the surgical area was overbooked.

To Lenberg’s surprise, David was the first patient admitted the next morning for surgery.

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‘My eyes instantly welled up with tears because I was so thankful that this little boy was able to get his much needed surgery done,” Lenberg said. “I don’t know that I have ever felt so much intense gratitude in my entire life as I felt in that moment. David’s dad said that I was David’s angel because I had tried so hard to get him the surgery that he needed. It was such an amazing experience to feel such intense love for someone that I had only know for such a short time.’ ”

Where Can I Volunteer?

What an amazing and rewarding experience this was for me! One of the other most prominent charities to provide volunteer nurses on the USNS Comfort was Project Hope. Project Hope also provides many opportunities to educate those less fortunate; there are currently opportunities in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, India, and more. An organization called Operation Smiles provides free surgeries for children with cleft palates or cleft lips. Their mission trips are less than a month in length; the next trips listed on their website are to China, Morocco, and Russia.

If you want to help with disaster relief in the United States, take a look at the American Red Cross. Other local opportunities can be found if you look around. Check out your public health department or local nursing homes.

If looking for some longer term volunteer opportunities, the US Peace Corps provides “life defining experience in more than 60 countries.”  These assignments last two years and the purpose is to build up foreign communities whether it be in education, health, or the environment. The Peace Corps Response is also another alternative for nurses who have 10 or more years experience. These assignments are approximately 3-12 months.

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Nurses have so many amazing opportunities to change not only the lives of those they come in contact with, but to have their lives changed as well. Whether you are on an actual volunteer mission or just working at your hospital, remember that nurses can change the world one person at a time!


Courtney Tracy, RN, works in a medical ICU and is passionate about nursing and helping other nurses be successful. She recently started the website From New to ICU, which focuses on helping nurses at all stages of their career. The main purpose is to help pre-nursing students find the right BSN program for them. From New to ICU provides reviews of BSN, RN to BSN, and Second Degree Accelerated BSN programs including prerequisite GPAs, admission tests, application information, etc. to help pre-nursing students find the right BSN program quickly. It also includes a section on nursing basics and a weekly blog. Visit http://fromnewtoicu.com to learn more.

Courtney Tracy
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