The current shortage of qualified nurses in the United States means that nurses are in high demand all across the country. However, getting your first job out of college still can prove a challenge. Many of the nursing shortages exist in rural areas or specific specialties instead of the metropolitan zones. Additionally, employers often want to see actual job experience on your resume before they will even consider you for a position. Hence, the vicious cycle of starting out in any career ‒ to get experience, you must work first, but to get a job, you need experience.
It’s here that volunteering plays a crucial role in your resume-building experience. It’s not only a rewarding experience, both personally and professionally, but you’ll receive real-life experience as well. While you won’t earn an income, volunteering helps you get your first job, and it looks good on your college applications and on scholarship applications. Plus, it offers the added bonus of differentiating your resume from the competition. Moreover, volunteering is simply a great way to give back to the community and help out those who need it most. Even nurses with established careers or who have retired often choose to volunteer.
What are the benefits of volunteering?
Most people say they volunteer because it makes them feel good by giving back. However, there are some very specific career benefits that make volunteering a smart move for nurses.
The chance to explore options
Many nurses take jobs that aren’t in perfect alignment with their goals or interests simply to get their foot in the door. Still, others are looking for new challenges but aren’t sure where to start. Volunteering allows nurses to work in different roles or specialties without making a long-term commitment. For example, a nurse who works part-time in a hospital might volunteer in a local school to get a taste of what it’s like to be a school nurse, allowing him or her to make a better decision about a possible career choice.
Volunteering allows a nurse to expand his or her network. A volunteer supervisor or co-worker could prove to be a valuable reference or even open the doors to new jobs and opportunities.
The practice of nursing is constantly changing, and even experienced nurses can and should earn new skills. Volunteering allows nurses to use their knowledge and skills in unique ways and keep them sharp and fresh. If you are a new nurse and need the experience to bolster an application to an RN to BSN program, volunteering can help improve your chances of admission.
Not all volunteer options for nurses involve direct patient care. Nurses can provide valuable insight to non-profit boards, emergency management teams, communication teams, and more, bringing their unique perspective and knowledge to help create positive change and improve overall public health. In fact, many nursing schools look for students who have experience volunteering, because not only does volunteer work show a commitment to the profession, it provides unparalleled leadership development.
The chance to serve as an ambassador
Nurses working outside of the typical health care environment and serving their communities have a chance to serve as ambassadors for their profession, both educating and inspiring others as to what it means to be a nurse. Given that the nursing shortage is ongoing, providing a positive impression of the field can help inspire other like-minded individuals to join the nursing ranks.
Watch the following video to know – what nurses talk about volunteering
Where to look for volunteer opportunities?
Opportunities to volunteer are abundant in the United States and all across the world. In your community, look for volunteer positions at your local clinic, emergency shelters, and non-profit organizations. Alternatively, reach out to larger organizations and their local chapters, such as the American Red Cross or the many nursing associations across the country that often can guide you to open volunteer positions.
Where to look for volunteer opportunities if you’re in high school?
1. Volunteer at your local hospital
Most hospitals have special programs for volunteers. To take part in one, you will likely fill out an application, take a TB test, potentially get a flu shot, and participate in a short training orientation. Volunteering at a hospital is an ideal way to expose yourself to the health care system and learn more about nursing. Keep in mind, however, that you will not perform any duties that require special training, so you will work primarily on the administrative side of the hospital.
2. Shadow a doctor or a nurse
To get a little more up-close and personal with the daily tasks of a medical care provider, find opportunities to shadow a nurse or a doctor. Summer is the best time to volunteer in this capacity since your schedule is likely to be more flexible. Shadowing means that you will literally follow the doctor or nurse around as she goes about her day and perhaps even perform some of her basic tasks. Find opportunities to volunteer through your high school or by directly contacting the organization or the person you’d like to shadow.
3. Special summer programs
Various colleges, universities, and organizations offer summer volunteer programs for high school students. These types of volunteering positions not only help your college application stand out in a crowded field, but they also allow you to gain insight into a career that interests you. Keep in mind that they often require tuition fees.
Where to look for volunteer opportunities if you’re in nursing school?
1. American Red Cross
One of the largest non-profit organizations in the country, the Red Cross has special programs for student nurse volunteers. To participate, students are encouraged to read through the volunteering guide and then contact their local chapter to set up a meeting with a volunteer coordinator. This individual should be able to help connect you to volunteer opportunities. Student nurses also may also train to serve as volunteers on nursing disaster response teams.
2. Intern at your local hospital or clinic
Volunteer or intern at your local hospital or clinic. While competitive, these positions offer an ideal opportunity to build your resume and learn directly from mentors in your field. You should be able to find opportunities through your college or directly on the hospital’s website. You will probably have to complete both an application and an interview process.
Many organizations, such as shelters and other spaces that provide care for those in need, offer basic medical services. Contribute your skills to these non-profit organizations by volunteering and helping out those in your community who need basic health care but who are unable to receive it for some reason.
Where to look for volunteer opportunities if you’re in nursing practice?
Whether you’re looking to continue building your nursing skills in a particular specialization or simply would like to give back to your community, a variety of volunteer opportunities exist for accredited nurses. The best place to start your search is through local volunteer job boards and community organizations. With a nurse’s busy schedule, volunteering may prove difficult simply because you don’t have many hours left in your day, but it can allow you to share your skills with the less fortunate with the amount of time you do have.
Where to look for volunteering opportunities abroad?
Many organizations offer opportunities to volunteer abroad. High school and college students, as well as accredited nurses, can find programs that suit their skill level and interests. These programs offer a lot of advantages, especially if you would like to combine your training and resume building with a bit of travel. They also provide a new perspective, so you will learn a lot about other cultures and different practices in the medical field.
Over to you
Volunteering is an ideal way for any type of nurses to both improve their career prospects and gain the personal satisfaction that comes from giving back. So before you question the wisdom of working for free, think about all of the benefits, and start giving back to your community.
“Volunteers don’t get paid, not because they’re worthless, but because they’re priceless.” – Sherry Anderson