Nurses Without Borders: How to Get Involved with Global Organizations

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Travel abroad enriches many people spiritually. Working abroad might well change a nurse’s life.

There are humanitarian, cultural and even monetary incentives for nurses who might want to spend a few months or years gaining a new career outlook. The opportunities are far more numerous than are the nurses willing to take advantage of them.

The cultural impact of learning the languages and customs of people in other countries might be reason alone for some nurses to work abroad, especially those who feel they need a change of scenery after years of 12-hour shifts. In a few locales, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, high salaries might be reason to take a chance, and other countries may offer worthwhile nonsalary benefits. There are increasing numbers of recruiters who specialize in matching U.S. nurses to hospitals abroad.

But a desire to do good is at the heart of nursing, so the humanitarian outreach might be the first to which a nurse seeking a life-changing experience is attracted. That outreach is easy to find.

The image of “nurses without borders” has been gaining popularity in recent years as a number of humanitarian medical global organizations have made the public aware of the health care problems faced by many developing countries and other parts of the world.

The primary goal of these organizations is to promote and implement programs offering care to the world’s at-risk populations, such as refugees fleeing conflict, victims of famine or epidemics, or those living in chronically underserved locations.

Here are several prominent organizations looking for nurses.

Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders)

Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders), founded in 1971 and headquartered in Switzerland, describes itself as an international humanitarian medical organization that provides impartial and independent medical care to people in more than 60 countries who are the victims of wars, natural disasters, malnutrition, economic disparities, and epidemics. The underlying philosophy is that all people deserve to have access to high-quality health care, regardless of geographic, economic, political or religious status.

In addition to physicians, MSF welcomes all qualified health practitioners, including nurses and nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, operating room nurses and nurse anesthetists. The organization also needs nonmedical staff for a variety of administrative and support positions. The MSF pays its workers a monthly salary as well as air fare, medical insurance and field accommodations.

The primary requirements for field work with MSF include a minimum of six months of availability, two years of professional experience in the chosen field, current licensing or other professional credentials, and work or travel experience outside the United States relevant to the field. Additional helpful experiences include being flexible and adaptable to basic living conditions, foreign language skills and participation in community service activities.

Volunteer opportunities with other global organizations

There are a number of other international organizations needing health care volunteers. Some may help with travel, living expenses or stipends but smaller organizations usually require that volunteers pay their own way.

The Peace Corps

Founded in 1961, the Peace Corps is one of the oldest organizations helping promote peace and world friendship through improving the lives of people around the world. It currently has more than 8,000 volunteers working in 76 host countries in areas as diverse as agriculture, economic, environmental and educational development, as well as health care.

Aligned with the Peace Corps is the Global Service Health Partnership, launched in 2013, which seeks to place physicians, nurses and other health professionals in nursing or medical schools in parts of Africa. There is also a critical need in the field for health care workers — especially nurses — in every country served by the Peace Corps.

The Peace Corps requires that all volunteers, regardless of field, be citizens of the U.S. and at least 18 years old, and be able to commit to 27 months of service.

The Global Nurse Initiative

The Global Nurse Initiative was founded in 2009 as a means to “give back” by serving global health communities that consist of nurses, nurse practitioners, medical doctors, physician assistants, and others. They help establish clinics and service projects, provide public education on health issues and conduct health screenings at area schools.

The GNI is stressing its need for nurses with ICU, ER, pediatric, and OB-gynecological experience.

International Medical Volunteers

The organization was formed in 1996 as a way to support and facilitate volunteer medical assistance to developing countries through exchanging information and education. Although the IMV doesn’t place or sponsor volunteers, it acts as a clearinghouse for information and provides online links to opportunities in global health care.

What a nurse needs to consider

Reviewing reasons for wanting to work abroad will help a nurse focus on which nursing job might be most suitable. Here are some considerations to keep in mind when pursuing an overseas nursing job.

Nursing experience

Even abroad, a job offer is most likely to be based on career history. Some organizations might subsequently allow the nurse to expand skills and knowledge by pursuing another type of nursing job.


A basic knowledge of the language spoken where the nurse will be working is usually helpful and sometimes is required. A hospital may offer language classes and provide translators.

In many locales, English will be the language spoken within the health care organizations. But knowing the local language will improve care provided to non-English speaking patients and will improve interaction with local staff.

Finding work

Intermediaries, generally known as health care recruiters, specialize in finding health care professionals on behalf of employers.

There is no better time than the present. With thorough research, an open mind, and a sense of adventure, a nurse can easily have an international adventure, or maybe even an international career.

edited by Colin Seymour

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