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Seasoned with Sage
Nursing with a Mission

A few years ago a physician with whom I’ve worked approached me about using my skills on a service trip to Africa. I jumped at the chance, despite the $2800 price tag. After sending out 100 support letters to friends and family, urging them to help the people of Africa through me, I raised a little over $1000. Luckily, the deficit was met through my hospital, which has a mission program. If you go on mission with one of the physicians on staff, they underwrite your airfare. And if you’re short paid time-off, they back you up with extra days.

Through my trip to Africa, I was reminded how important participating in service projects is to your career. Whenever you give to others, you return to your profession a different person. I learned valuable lessons, like depending on other nurses--something we sometimes lose sight of in our day-to-day jobs.

It was like we jumped out of a plane as strangers, popped our parachutes, and clung to somebody. Suddenly, that somebody becomes your family over the next two weeks, because you’re in a strange place where you have to be vulnerable and trust one another.

I also learned that I often take for granted the knowledge and supplies we have access to in the United States to provide exceptional care. In Africa, they just make do.

Even if you don’t ever make it overseas to someplace like Africa, I’d say that if you’re going to make nursing your career, you need to give back to your community in a service capacity. In fact, many hospitals and health care centers have clinical ladders through which nurses can acquire higher level of stature and pay if they become involved in community service.  If you don’t have community service under your belt, it’s difficult to climb that ladder. They’ll send you back, and say, “Get involved and come back next year.”

You can begin finding places to plug in by looking in the local newspaper and on the Internet for community service nursing opportunities. Often nursing journals have updates and ads, too. A number of nurses with whom I worked found out about the trip through a journal where an ad was published.

Some nurses go to their home churches and ask to implement wellness programs. Play on your strengths. If you’re a labor and delivery nurse, for instance, you can offer your phone number through your church as a resource for pregnant women. Or if your focus is geriatrics, you can be a point person for the aging population.

But don’t make a service project so big that you’ll never embark on the journey. Keep it simple. And remember there are opportunities right outside your door. Start by offering a half of your day once a month at a shelter or a public health center, for instance. Or ask to organize a health awareness project in your child’s classroom. Work with other nurses to sponsor a one-day health event. Think out of the box.

A side benefit of being out in your community is that you raise public awareness about how important nursing is to our society.  So, don’t be afraid…go serve!

Read more Seasoned with Sage articles

5 Responses to “Nursing with a Mission”

  1. Kim Says:

    What an awesome reminder for all of us to get out there and give back. I have also had the blessing of being able to use my nursing skills in other countries – often with much less resources that we have and it is truly an eye opening / life changing experience.

    I am so thankful for my nursing background and how it can be used by God in such a tangible way to help people anywhere in the world. If anyone is contemplating whether or not to take such a trip, I would STRONGLY recommend it! I can’t put into words how moving the experience is, and how touching it is to be able to help just one other person who might not otherwise have ever been able to receive that care. We take so much for granted here in the US, and sometimes it takes fresh eyes and a new perspective to really see life’s values and realize what really matters!

    Thanks for the reminder, and thanks to everyone who gives back to others – right here at home or far away:)

  2. Marsha Sharrah Says:

    I just returned last week from serving as the only nurse at a Christian camp for kids in the 1-6th grades. This was my first time flying without the safety net of instructors or fellow nurses to run things by. At times I felt totally overwhelmed and wanted to come home. But I learned putting a band aide on a scratch and a hug can do absolute miracles to someone who’s homesick. I don’t know who learned more that week me or the kids? Honestly, it was probably me…I felt like that week I finally became a nurse!!!

  3. Deb Says:

    I have made almost a dozen trips abroad to provide nursing service and each has been an important part of my career and personal growth. I want others to know that not all physicians provide financial support for nurses’ travel on these missions but other places might. Fraternal and business organizations like Rotary International. Kiwanis, Zonta etc often help support expenses in exchange for a talk with pictures on your return. Also, I had a women’s community service group provide more than $100 for ‘incidentals’ and in exchange i also gave them a luncheon talk (they fed me lunch) on my return.

    For those who might not have the inclination, life style, or physical ability to travel abroad, service in one’s own commmunity can be no less rewarding and important- a group of us in my area started a once a month free community supper along with transportation for elders and others w/o wheels. This has been going on for 4 years now and is a wonderful way to build community and reduce isolation of the elderly and infirm (we also provide home delivery and a visit for shut-ins). Volunteering at a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or free breakfast program to do blood pressure monitoring is a great way to learn about the resilience and unique beauty of even those who might be considered ‘undesirables’. Caring in community is a great way to ‘give back’ and also to show compassion while helping to strengthen the cloth of human interrelatedness.

  4. JoEllen Says:

    I am still in nursing school, but had the opportunity to go to Ecuador with 20 other nursing students. It was amazing to see how the nurses down there handle lack of supplies and support — they make their own cotton balls and alcohol swabs! We traveled to small communities and did health education and once de-liced an entire school.

    It gives you a different perspective on nursing and also helps us not to take for granted what we have.

    I can’t wait to go on more nursing trips once I am done with school!

  5. Flannery Says:

    Your post is truly a great reminder of how important it is to serve those who cannot perhaps normally afford/access proper care. I’m just beginning nursing school, but it’s a similar trip I took a few years ago, during my senior year of high school, that was the catalyst for my decision to become a nurse in the first place. I had the opportunity to go on a missions trip to Honduras, to work in a missions hospital there. I had some of the most amazing opportunities, and eye-opening experiences there. In that place of a somewhat more “raw” medical atmosphere, I was able to see the heart and soul that lies behind true nursing, and understand the field to be more than simply a profession or career, and much more of a ministry/service opportunity. I look forward to making missions nursing a large part of my future career. Thanks so much for your post!

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