Giving of your self and time is a big commitment. Here are some tips from a fellow volunteer travel nurse on volunteering abroad.
5 Tips When Volunteering Abroad
- Stay open minded, positive, and flexible.
- There is no such thing as ‘over-packing’.
- Do your Research.
- What you put in, is what you get out.
- Your way, isn’t always the BEST way.
• Be & Stay Open
Honestly, you never know what can happen. You may triage kids using a Clorox Wipes Canister as your desk, water may run out, or your truck may catch a flat and your team has to trek up a mountain with all your water and supplies to successfully open your clinic for the day.
Regardless, if you stay open, positive, and flexible you can make it through anything! Being in impoverished countries things are going to be completely different than what you’re used to but embracing and adapting is what your already good at as a travel nurse so use it to your advantage. Keep Calm and Nurse On!
• You Cannot Over-pack
Coming from the Queen of “Oh crap I forgot that” – I’m notorious for having to pray someone brought extras. So don’t be like me, prepare and pack accordingly. You have to remember most of the time what you use at home is not available in these countries, so if you need it you should bring it. Sunscreen, clothes, medicines, snacks, etc. — make a list and pack the essentials. I always end up leaving and donating most of what I brought to orphanages or the host organization. So I rarely go home with even 1/2 of my luggage.
Don’t be naive, do your research. You don’t need to complete a dissertation on the country you’re going to but be mindful and aware – from culture/customs, language, and safety, to things as simple as weather and WiFi. There are certain things that make your trip run smoothly if your somewhat knowledgeable of the area you’re going.
A big help for me was practicing a little bit of the common phrases in the native dialect just in case I got lost or needed help and no one spoke English. You’re not going to know or remember everything but a little respect for the country and its people, goes a long way. Also look into the organization or group your traveling with.
As travelers we have access to so many various networks there are plenty of options for finding good organization/group fit for your volunteering abroad needs.
• What you put in is What you get out
These trips really tug at your heart strings, face it as nurses were little saps on the inside anyways! I journal throughout my trips because medical missions give you more than just the ‘feel goods’ -your truly tested mentally spiritually and physically. From Haiti I learned Strength, Russia I learned Independence, and Africa I learned Love. So, put your time into getting to know the people, the country, and yourself through service. Try and learn the language, eat the food, dance and sing with the children. Listening to your patients or staff stories is one of the most eye opening dialogues you can share. The you who left, if your lucky will not be the you that returns. Embrace the differences and attempt to submerge yourself into the new. You will thank yourself, trust me.
Your Way Is Not Always The Best Way
As travelers, we know the “well at my home hospital” type of people. Don’t be that nurse. Your way is not their way and that’s for good reason. Most hospitals or clinics in third world countries do not have the resources, supplies, access, or education to support most westernized medicine practices. So, instead of pushing what you know – listen, listen again, then observe.
You may come up with a solution or change that can effectively be implemented in their setting, but you have to understand all the variables and background before offering suggestions that are unsustainable. Stay humble, you can stand to learn a bit too.