Is Disaster Relief Nursing for You?
What you need to know about being a disaster relief nurse
It can be hard to watch the news these days. Conflict around the world and natural disasters mean that we are constantly confronting stories about human suffering. From hurricane victims to war refugees, a common thread is a desperate need for basic medical care, which is often provided by volunteer nurses and doctors. If you’ve ever considered joined the ranks of disaster nurses but weren’t sure what it would take, read on.
What sort of experience is helpful for disaster relief nursing?
Medical relief organizations particularly value experience working in the ER, ICU, CCU, trauma, pediatrics, or obstetrics. Speaking additional languages is a bonus, in the United States and elsewhere, since translation services are often disrupted after a catastrophe. However, most experienced nurse practitioners and registered nurses have the requisite skills to assist after a disaster. There are also some key personality traits that will make you a successful disaster relief nurse – positivity, flexibility and strong communication skills are a must.
Can you meet the physical requirements for a disaster relief nurse?
Unlike other travel nursing assignments, disaster relief nurses may not have comfortable, or even private, housing. Depending on the conditions when you arrive, you may need to sleep in a hospital, or a tent, or a gym, and have limited access to electricity and clean water. Bathrooms can also be quite rudimentary. Sometimes you will have to hike to remote areas. Even in the USA, temperatures might reach surprising extremes of hot or cold. A disaster relief nurse must be in good physical condition and not have any chronic health conditions that might create a crisis.
Can you obtain the necessary documentation and immunizations?
Traveling internationally to provide disaster relief will require the most advance preparation. You will need a current passport and sometimes a visa as well. You can obtain information about visa requirements on the State Department website. Also, you will need to make sure you have all the necessary immunizations, and sometimes you may have to take a round of anti-malarial medication. Within the United States you will still need copies of your professional licenses and usually a current driver’s license as well. Making sure you have these things on hand will be your responsibility.
Can you afford to be a disaster relief nurse?
With the exception of travel nurses, who can usually obtain a disaster relief post through their professional organization, most disaster relief nurses are unpaid volunteers. Not only this, you must cover the costs of immunizations, visas, travel and even sometimes basic first aid supplies. Many people who want to participate in medical relief missions, especially young nurses, engage in some fundraising efforts. There are many options, from personally contacting friends and family to setting up a GoFundMe page. Just remember to thank your donors and provide updates on the important work that you do.
If you would like to provide disaster relief in the United States:
American Red Cross sent nursing teams to ground zero after 9/11 and to Houston after Hurricane Harvey. If you are looking to be on the frontlines but stay close to home, you can join more than 15,000 other nurses working in the Red Cross Disaster Health Services. The Red Cross will also work with student nurses, providing a wonderful opportunity for young nurses looking to learn and give back. You can visit their page to look for volunteer opportunities. Some travel nursing agencies will also offer short term assignments in areas hard hit by disasters and will compensate you commensurate with your experience and qualification.
If you would like to travel to assist in disaster relief around the world:
Doctors Without Borders isn’t just for doctors – they have openings for medical personnel across a wide range of fields. If you’re a registered nurse, nurse midwife, a licensed mental health specialist, a pharmacist, or a laboratory technician you can apply too. To submit an application, visit their website (language skills will make you competitive). If you want something that’s less of a time commitment, consider volunteering with Medical Teams International. Potential volunteers can indicate that they are available to serve between 2 to 5 weeks.
Disaster nursing can be emotionally and physically draining. But offering your expertise where it is needed most is a deeply rewarding experience. If you’re prepared for the challenge you will do great things around the world and here in your own country.