Why Nurses? Nurses and Volunteering: A Perfect Match

by Glory DeWitt, December 2003
published with permission

Why, you may ask, are nurses natural partners for your agency and its social mission? First, we must explore nursing as a profession, nursing's role in society and the principles of nursing practice to understand the unique strengths that nurses can offer your organization as volunteers.

It is not uncommon for people to think that all nurses are trained to work in hospitals or clinics at the bedside. In reality, nurses work in wide and varied roles in your community. Nurses also work in schools, in churches, at health fairs, for disaster relief agencies, in community outreach, as case managers, researchers, educators, in community development, in public health roles, program development, and in insurance companies. Nurses work in education, policy development and planning. Nurses work as advocates and as forces of change. Nursing education prepares nurses to work in a wide variety of roles in your community.

Gather a room full of nurses together and you will find represented a room full of passions. Nurses are drawn to the profession for many reasons, one of which being a desire to help people. If your organization is one that fulfills a social need, rest assured that there are nurses who care about your issue. The unique skills, knowledge and training of nurses are sure to bring a new perspective to your organization.

In recruiting nurses to serve as volunteers, not only will you gain unique nursing perspective for your organization, but perhaps you could help to reconnect a nurse to what originally drew them to the profession!

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Nursing's Roots

Nursing's roots are firmly planted in service to others - individuals, groups, and communities. For centuries, since the time of Florence Nightingale, nurses have worked to help people and have served the health needs of society. Nurses are socialized through their education, experience in work settings, and through leadership roles to acquire the values, skills, behaviors and norms appropriate to nursing practice. Since the days of its beginnings, nursing has developed its contributions to society which include a service-to-society mission, delivering services that are vital to human welfare and a well defined code of ethics (Creasia & Parker, 2001). Through the practice of these services, nursing has developed values and ethical principles that guide its practice. It is these values and ethics that will make nurses the perfect volunteers for your agency.

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Why Recruit Nurses as Volunteers

While your organization may, or may not, deliver nursing care, nurses can, and should, still be considered as a recruitment pool for your organization. Nurses possess a wide variety of knowledge and skills that can make them an asset to your volunteer program. Nurse training instills in them a strong sense of service to the public, essential values and ethics, and methodological problem solving skills. Many nurses who work in a clinical setting may welcome the chance to participate in other types of service. After reading about the skills and knowledge offered by nurses, outside of their technical expertise, you will understand how nurses fit into the work your organization does.

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What do Nurses do Anyway? Defining Nursing

People have many ideas about what nurses do - they bandage wounds, they work in hospitals, they ask questions, or draw blood. In your agency, you may not need any of these service performed, but nurses can still provide a valuable service to you. As you come to understand the core goals and values of nursing, you will see that there are guiding principles to the practice of nursing that are an asset to the mission and goals of many organizations.

As stated by Florence Nightingale in 1860, the goal of nursing is to "put the patient in the best condition for nature to work upon him." First, a definition of nursing, as nurses are taught to understand it. Nursing is the diagnosis and treatment of human responses to actual or potential health problems. Nurses study and recognize a person's response to their health conditions. They work to help the individual, or group to manage their response to their health or illness condition. Nurses serve to facilitate people's healthy responses to their conditions. The American Nurse's Association has developed a Social Policy Statement in which it discusses four essential features of contemporary nursing practice which may help to clarify this role. First, nurses work to draw attention to the full range of human experiences and responses to health and illness. Second, nurses integrate objective data, such as laboratory results or tests, with an understanding of the subjective experience, such as the emotional response or their perception of family responsibility, of the patient. Third, nurses apply scientific knowledge to the process of diagnoses and treatment of these human responses to illness. And finally, nurses provide a caring relationship that leads to health and healing (Creasia & Parker, 2001). Their training and education make them natural educators and advocates.

These guiding principles are used by nurses in all of their interactions with clients. As volunteers for your organization, nurses can apply these skills to the work that you do - whether it be caring for abused children, feeding homeless, or responding to local disasters.

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Let the Nursing Process Work for You

In addition to core values and ethics, nurses are trained in the nursing process. Nurses are trained in the process of critical thinking, which can be an asset as they work as volunteers for your organization. The nursing process is a standard problem-solving process, similar to that used by many professions. Imagine how much your volunteers could accomplish if they applied the nursing process to their work!

The nursing process is the guide by which nurses organize their work. It is a systematic method for taking independent nursing action. The nursing process is the cornerstone of nursing practice. The nursing process includes patient assessment, nursing diagnosis, planning, implementation, and evaluation. Theses phases in the nursing process are dynamic and flexible and they often overlap. The ability to apply this thought process to their work has many benefits. It allows nurses to apply their knowledge and skill in an organized and goal-oriented manner (Sparks & Taylor, 2000).

Nurses are also trained to develop critical thinking skills. Nurses are taught to anticipate questions and needs of clients, ask what if questions, look for flaws in assessments and solutions, and develop good habits of inquiry. Nurses are taught to apply reflective thinking to their clinical practice. And in their daily practice, nurses hone their critical thinking skills. This is a skill nurses can apply to any type of work they do - the ability to decipher important issues, make well informed decisions and act on well-thought out plans, and evaluate their actions (Creasia & Parker, 2001).

Nurses trained in this clear, concise and methodological thought process can be an asset to you as volunteers as they work to solve and address problems in their volunteer role in your organization.

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Bring Nursing's Values and Ethics to Your Organization

The values and ethical dimensions of nursing can also be an asset to your organization when you enlist nurses as volunteers. Consider the following discussion of nursing's values and ethics and how they fit into the work that your organization does.

Nursing's values and ethics are outlined in the American Nurses Association's (ANA) Code for Nurses. The values of the profession give nurses direction, guide nursing behaviors and are pivotal in decision making. The values central to the profession of nursing are caregiving, altruism, respect for human dignity, service to society, accountability and recognition of the client as an individual, empathetic understanding and reciprocal trust (Creasia & Parker, 2001).

Given the nature of the nurse-client relationship and the goal of nursing to care for people with respect and dignity, it follows that nurses would often be confronted with ethical dilemmas. In fact 74% of nurses reported confronting ethical problems on a daily or weekly basis (Chally & Loriz, 1998). There are four ethical principles used to guide nursing practice. Nurses use these principles in their interactions with clients, in the nursing process and when faced with difficult ethical problems inherent to the practice of health care delivery.

The principle of autonomy holds that people have a right to determine their own actions based on their values and beliefs. The principle of beneficence is defined as 'doing good': inflict no harm, prevent harm, remove harm, and promote good. The ANA's code holds that nurses should safeguard the patient and public when health care and safety are affected. The principle of justice calls that a person should be treated fairly, and is given what is due or owed. And the principle of veracity is defined as truth telling, which is essential for effective communication. As nurses, we are morally obligated to work within this ethical framework.

Nurses often face issues in their work when they must call to use these ethical principles for decision making. Nurses use these principles to help clients determine if the harm outweighs the good of a treatment, to ensure fair allocation of resources, and disclosing sensitive information. They use the nursing process to determine a course of action in making ethical decisions regarding patient care (Chally & Loriz, 1998).

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Nursing's Volunteer Roots: Social Justice

Nurses trained in public health nursing can be an especially valuable resource to you as volunteers. Public health nursing has strong roots in volunteerism and the concept of social justice. Volunteering appeals to the basic belief structure of nursing by helping individuals to reach beyond health and wellness and connect to broader issues (Rojak, Frederickson, Fitpold, & Uhlken, 2001).

Care of families and individuals without resources has been the major focus of public health nursing since its beginning in the United States. The early visiting nurses associations were begun by women, often of the upper class, who were interested in helping others. This early focus of service has been institutionalized in many visiting nurses associations. Providing services, despite the ability to pay for them is a core concept in social justice. It is one that has been integrated into public health practice, with the goal of minimizing preventable death and illness (Ervin, 2002).

Public health nurses who practice within a social justice context work to improve the life situations of individuals or communities. These nurses are trained to view each person within the context of the situation of their lives. The concept of social justice arms nurses with the perspective to realize that individuals live in dynamic settings in which many factors affect their health. Nurses are trained to look into situations, policies and procedures that prevent equality from becoming a reality (Ervin, 2002).

Practicing within the concept of social justice allows nurses to make real, in small ways, what our society could be like if it were driven by justice, equality, and respect for all.

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Professional Liability

Nurses are suitable candidates for various volunteer roles within organizations - those requiring their professional license and those roles that do not. However, it is important that the volunteer role be clearly defined. Whether the role requires the nurse to perform functions defined under a nursing license will have implications for liability purposes.

If you plan to place a nurse in a role that does not require a nursing license, then the nurse will not need any liability coverage outside that of any normal volunteer. However, if you enlist a nurse to perform a nursing function which falls under the scope of practice of a nursing license, there are additional conditions to consider. Nurses must only perform functions that are designated under their Nursing Practice Act and must abide by the statues regulating the practice of professional nursing by the board in their state. They must be aware of the liability coverage provided to them in any specific situation by the organization for which they are working (American Red Cross).

If your agency wishes to employ nurses in a capacity in which they perform duties under the license as nurses, it is essential that you verify and maintain current and accurate records of licensure, dates of expiration (Sauer, 2001).

Any nurse who works as a volunteer or in a paid position is required "to practice according to the Standards for Nursing Practice within their state; practice within the legal scope of nursing practice; understand the purpose of any intervention or treatment, including the effects of the treatment, indications and contraindications for the treatment, risks and expected outcomes; determine appropriateness of the treatment in light of other nursing or medical interventions; and competently perform the interventions or treatments and be able to manage both anticipated and unanticipated outcomes of the care or have the necessary back up resources available, respect the client's right to privacy, accept only those nursing assignments that take into consideration client safety and that are commensurate with one's own educational preparation , experience, knowledge and physical and emotional ability, know recognize and maintain professional boundaries of the nurse-client relationship…" (Board of Nurse Examiners for the State of Texas, 2000).

Nurses may carry personal liability and malpractice insurance that protects them in their practice. However, this coverage is not always extended to the agency employing the nurse as a paid employee or volunteer. Your agency must have liability insurance coverage for nurses to function in a nursing role.

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The Volunteer Protection Act of 1997

The purpose of the Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 is to sustain the availability of programs, nonprofit organizations, and governmental entities that depend on volunteer contributions by providing some protection from liability abuses related to volunteers serving nonprofit organizations and governmental entities.

This law provides that no volunteer of a nonprofit organization or governmental entity "shall be liable for harm caused by an act or omission of the volunteer on behalf of the organization or entity" if the volunteer meets four requirements.

  • the volunteer must have been acting within the scope of the volunteer's responsibilities in the nonprofit organization or governmental entity at the time of the act or omission
  • if it is required or appropriate, the volunteer must have been properly licensed, certified, or authorized by the appropriate authorities for the activities or practice in the State in which the harm occurred,
  • the harm may not have been caused by willful or criminal misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct, or a conscious, flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of the individual harmed by the volunteer.
  • the harm may not have been caused by the volunteer operating a motor vehicle, vessel, aircraft, or other vehicle for which the State requires the operator or the owner of the vehicle, craft, or vessel to possess an operator's license or maintain insurance

While this Act protects nurses that work for your agency, it does not protect the agency itself. Again, it is for this reason, that if you intend to engage nurses to perform functions under their nursing licensure, your agency must have liability insurance for its own protection (Texas Medical Association).

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I'm Convinced! I Need a Nurse! Recruitment

Yes! Nurses have much to contribute to your organization as volunteers, both in and out of traditional nursing roles. Your next step is to develop a nurse recruitment plan. This section intends to guide you as you develop a recruitment plan to recruit nurses specifically for your organization. Try to imagine your recruitment plans as the process of "showing people that they can do something they already want to do" (McCurley & Lynch, 1996). With nursing's strong roots in caregiving, ethics and action, you simply need to show nurses what your organization does, who it serves, and what its values are and get in touch with nurses who connect to your work - they already want to help! Now it is time to match the needs of your organization, to the needs of nurse volunteers.

When developing your targeted recruitment message for nurses, you need to clearly define the job you want to be done, the need that needs to be fulfilled, and the benefits the volunteer will give and receive by performing the job. And of course, the training your volunteers, nurses included, will receive to perform that job (McCurley & Lynch, 1996).

Each individual volunteer has a slightly different mix of motivations to volunteer and will have different needs as a volunteer. Your recruitment efforts will be most rewarding when you are able to identify and reach those volunteers whose needs and motivation most closely match those of your organization (McCurley & Lynch, 1996). Consider the motivational factors that may draw nurses to volunteer experiences.

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What might be the motivation of a nurse to volunteer for your organization? Nurses may volunteer for many of the same reasons as anyone else - to meet new people, to gain new skills, to feel a part of a group and to help people. However, there may be some special motivational factors at work within the nursing community.

Many nurses may be motivated to become involved in volunteer work as a source of renewal. The professional life of nurses in hospital and clinic settings is fast paced. Many nurses may be drawn to volunteering as a way of reconnecting with what first led them to nursing - social justice, ethical principles, helping others, education, advocacy.. Volunteering may be a way to escape the pressures and demands of their daily jobs to rediscover what it is in the world that is important to them - which may very well be the mission of your organization (Springer, 1996).

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Where Are All the Nurses?

When recruiting nurses, where should you go to deliver your targeted recruitment message? Think of places where you may find nurses...hospitals, clinics, nursing associations…these may be the best places to start your search.

  • Hospitals and clinics

    You may consider delivering your message at a hospital or clinic. Depending on the jobs you are looking to fill, you may want to select specific units for recruitment efforts. Consider the skills you are looking for - do you need emergency room nurses, children's nurses, nurses who work with the older population? Contact the nurse managers of these units and discuss the possibility of placing a poster or flyer in the nurses break room, or attending a unit meeting to deliver your message. Or, maybe the skills you seek are more general. Most hospitals have monthly newsletters for visitors and staff. Consider placing your message in the hospital or clinic's newsletter to reach all different types of nurses.

    Many hospitals offer clinical ladders for the advancement of their nurses. Some 'rungs' on the clinical ladder ask that nurses become involved in volunteer experiences. Inquire at your local hospitals if they try to engage their nurses in volunteer work in this manner and if your organization can help their efforts by recruiting nurses.

  • Professional nursing organizations

    Professional nursing organizations are a great place to start your nursing recruitment efforts. Nursing organizations do many things. They offer a forum for nurses to address important issues and they often work for the advancement and protection of nursing practice. These types of organizations enlist nurses as members and may be able to provide you will a great pool of nurses, their members, to hear your message.

    Professional nursing organizations may attract many types of nurses, but you may find that many nurses who work for these organizations are active and interested in advocacy work. If you are looking for nurses to fill this type of role, this may be your place!

    There are many national, state, and local nursing organizations. The American Nurses Association www.nursingworld.org is the largest national organization for nurses. However, you may be more successful at finding nurses in your area by contacting your states' nursing organization, for example, the Texas Nurses Association http://www.texasnurses.org.

  • Schools of nursing

    If there is a nursing school in your area, this would be a great place to spread your recruitment message. You will reach nursing students, new nurses, and experienced nursing faculty.

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Calling All Nurses: VOLUNTEER!

Volunteering can be a way for you to rediscover what originally drew you to nursing. It can also serve as a powerful renewal tool. Think back to the things that drew you to nursing in the first place - you can find volunteer positions to express these motivations. Volunteering can help you get back in touch with what is important to you. What are your passions? What drives you to want to help? Use these passions and motivations to guide you in your search for volunteer opportunities. You can find positions to use the skills you already have or to develop new ones.

The following are some ideas to help you get started in your search for a volunteer opportunity:

  • Policy Development. Participate in social or political campaigns. Contact your state nurses' association for campaigns involving nursing, or become involved in any issue that interests or effects you.
  • Parish Nursing. Parish nurses serve the health needs of faith communities.
  • Camp Nurses. Serve as a nurse at a local summer camp for children. Many camps serve specific communities of children.
  • Hospice Volunteer. Volunteer at a local hospice. Duties often include providing respite while the caregiver runs errands, offering companionship and socialization to the patient, reading or letter writing, helping with light household chores, providing clerical support to the hospice team or assisting with fund-raising events.
  • Sexual Assault Nurse Volunteers. You can volunteer to work with teams who respond to sexual assaults. Duties often include being present at the time of the exam to comfort the victim. The primary purpose of the volunteer is to be there to provide support to the victim before, during and immediately after the exam.
  • Caring for the Elderly. Volunteer at a local nursing home or in a recreation facility for retired citizens. You can bring cheer, companionship and independence to hundreds of older men and women, who need assistance in managing tasks of daily living. Volunteers can visit isolated persons offering friendly reassurance, provide transportation to medical appointments and help with minor household chores.
  • Community Health Volunteers. You can serve as a volunteer at local health fairs, give flu shots and participate in health campaigns through various local agencies in your community. Contact local public health and community centers for more information. There are many clinics which offer primary care services to the indigent populations for low cost or for free. Many of these organizations are faith based. These clinics operate with the services of volunteers who provide services. As an example, look at the following website: www.elbuen.org
  • Medical Reserve Corps. The Medical Reserve Corps will provide local communities with volunteer health professionals who can assist health professionals during a large-scale local emergency. Practicing and retired health care professionals will be a on a medical reserve list, ready to be called up to duty in the event of an emergency. Volunteers can assist with emergency response teams, provide care to victims with non-serious injuries, and provide additional staffing/manpower to increase the effectiveness of physicians/nurses and other health professionals in a major crisis. They would also be active in promoting public health in their communities throughout the year. Medical Reserve Corps will usually be affiliated with a local Citizen Corps Council. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services(HHS)will support the coordination and training for volunteer health professionals so that they are ready to assist their community in the event of a local emergency. www.citizencorps.gov
  • Licensure As A Retired Volunteer Nurse. Many states offer a Retired Volunteer Nurse License. A nurse holding a retired volunteer nursing license cannot accept payment for nursing care provided while in the possession of this license. A retired volunteer nursing license allows the retired nurse to engage in volunteer nursing care within the scope of the nurse's license. Generally, you may apply for a Retired Volunteer Nurse license if: You are at least 65 years of age AND You currently hold a nursing license that is due to expire unless renewed: OR You have retired from the practice of nursing and are not currently engaged in the practice of nursing either full-time or part-time and have maintained licensure in good standing in any state or U.S. territory. Contact your state's Board of Nurse Examiners for more information.
  • American Red Cross. More than 40,000 nurses are involved in paid and volunteer capacities at all levels and in all service areas throughout the American Red Cross. These activities consist of: Providing direct services: e.g. local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), Health Fairs, volunteer in military clinics and hospitals, blood collection team, tissue donor recruitment. Teaching and developing courses: HIV/AIDS, CPR/First Aid, Automatic emergency Defibrillator(AED), Disaster Health Services, Nurse Assistant Training, Babysitting. Acting in management and supervisory roles: including Chapter and Blood region executives. Functioning in governance roles: local board member to national Board of Governors. Find contact information for your local chapter of the American Red Cross at www.redcross.org Click on "Find your Red Cross" and enter your zip code (American Red Cross).
  • School Nurse. Some school districts utilize volunteer nurses to fulfill the needs of their students. Volunteer nurses may offer services for the students, families, and school personnel. The volunteer nurse acts in such roles as provider, educator, investigator, communicator, planner and role model for the student health care. Other duties may include: Assess documentation of medications administered and assist with medication data collection; Provide nursing assessment and interventions; Provide first aid; Assist with school health fairs; Assist with screening activities; Document screening results; Provide health education in respective area of expertise. Maintain school health room supplies. Contact your local school district offices to see if they offer such programs.

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Nursing Abroad

There are so many opportunities for nurses to volunteer overseas. You can literally choose the type of work you want to do, or the area of the world you would like to work in and there is a placement available for you. You can find assignments for as short as one week for as long as 2 years. The possibilities are amazing. Imagine stepping into life in a developing country with all the skills you have to offer as a nurse. Volunteering abroad can be a very rewarding and fulfilling experience.

If you are considering volunteering overseas, there are a few important things to consider. Volunteer for a reputable organization. Speak to returned volunteers to learn about their experience overseas and how much support the hosting organization was able to offer. Do your research, pack your bags, and go!

The following links are just a few of the possibilities:

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  • American Red Cross a. Understanding professional liability. Retrieved from http://redcross.org/nov/nurse/howto96.html
  • American Red Cross b . Nurses' volunteer options. Retrieved fromhttp://www.redcross.org on November 21, 2003.
  • Board of Nurse Examiners for the State of Texas. (2000). Nursing practice act & nursing peer review act.
  • Chally, P.S., & Loriz, L. (1998). Ethics in the trenches: Decision making in practice. American Journal of Nursing, 98(6), 17-20.
  • Creasia, J.L., & Parker, B. (2001). Conceptual foundations: The bridge to professional nursing practice(3rd ed.). St. Louis: Mosby.
  • Rojak, J., Fredrickson, P., Fitpold, K., & Uhlken, C.J. (2001). Expanding occupational and environmental health nurse resources: Using community projects to inspire volunteerism. AAOHN Journal, 49(3), 116-120.
  • Sauer, C. (2001). Practice points: Volunteering as a nurse. Minnesota Nurse Accent, 73(5).
  • Sparks, S.M., & Taylor, C.M. (2001). Nursing diagnosis reference manual (5th ed.). Springhouse, PN: Springhouse Corporation.
  • Springer, J. (1996). Rediscovery through renewal. Nursing Management, 96(27), 51.
  • Texas Medical Association. Practice management. Retrieved on November 20, 2003 from www.texmed.org/pmt/lel/volunteerprotectionact.asp

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