Guest Post by Jacob Ryan - While over 150 years has passed since Florence Nightingale and her trained staff embarked during the Crimean War, their legacy lives on, as travel nursing has flourished into a prominent humanitarian effort that some would refer to as a true calling: not for just anyone and everyone. Today, men and women from America and all over the world choose to take their nursing skills abroad, where people who are often caught in the crossfire of war, who struggle to cope with tragic natural disasters or who simply face a shortage of health professionals are in dire need of trained international help.
How Do You Become a Work-Abroad Nurse?
First things first: before you can go overseas, you have to be a certified nurse with experience behind you. If you have not yet achieved this first step, don’t be too dismayed; there are plenty of opportunities to get the ball rolling. There are tons of nursing schools all over the country, as well as programs within technical and vocational schools, junior and community colleges and most universities. Thanks to the internet, viable online options are available as well. If you’ve already gone through a nursing program but it was some time ago, you might consider brushing up your education or pursuing it further before you go, with RN to BSN online programs as a popular choice (especially since you might be able to work in a useful foreign language as part of a humanities elective). Consider going back for a specialization in an area such as surgery or pediatric nursing, two options that can be incredibly in-demand in war-torn countries.
Once you have some experience under your belt, you can begin to seek out work. Nursing journals offer advertisements; getting in touch with a healthcare recruiter is also an excellent option; you might consider joining the military as well. The internet is full of opportunities, too, as overseas nursing and healthcare organizations offer more specific information via their websites and offer ways for you to contact them directly with questions.
How Should You Prepare?
Once you have obtained a position nursing overseas, you will have a lot to consider. Most organizations will obtain the appropriate work visa for you, but you should double check in case you must get it on your own. You will also need your proof of your American nursing licensure, which will be honored abroad, as well as a passport. Even if you’re heading for a country that is mostly bilingual with English as the second language, you would not be remiss in picking up some language-learning tapes to acquaint yourself with the native tongue. Also, make sure your immunizations are up-to-date.
Print a few copies of your itinerary to keep on-hand and make special note of the departure date and time. You will of course pack clothes, toothbrushes and other essentials but you should anticipate all situations with some OTC anti-diarrheals, laxatives and even heartburn medication, which will be in short supply in a third-world situation. A pocket calculator can come in incredibly handy, as well as hand sanitizer.
What Can You Expect?
For traveling nurses especially in third-world countries, the culture shock can be jarring. Aside from the primitive working conditions, the deprivations faced by men, women and children are on a scale most first-world inhabitants can’t imagine. The emotional, mental and physical exhaustion while working in these types of situations can certainly take their toll.
Arm yourself with information and research about your new, temporary home – the politics, the people and the climate. Travel nurses should be aware that transportation may differ, geography can be both beautiful and treacherous, and diseases that first-world citizens have the privilege of never experiencing may appear in other countries. War zones can be fatally dangerous and under constant threat of bombing; injuries on a scale of violence unseen before in American hospitals can soon become commonplace sights. It can be an altogether harrowing experience, but most nurses say that it is also a fulfilling and life-enriching one; that helping people around the globe continues the nursing tradition begun by Florence Nightingale over a century and a half ago.
Image provided by U.S. Army Africa from Flickr’s Creative Commons