Examining the Role of Nurses in a Disaster

When a disaster strikes across the globe we want to help any way we can. Many people will give money to relief organizations, donate needed items, or give blood.  But nurses can – and do – offer more. The role of nurses in a disaster is crucial; they can be on the front lines, providing medical care to those affected. If you aspire to become a disaster relief nurse, take a look at what you can expect before you accept the challenge.


What You’ll Do As a Disaster Relief Nurse

Volunteering to be a disaster relief nurse can be a life-changing experience, but it’s also incredibly challenging. As a disaster relief nurse you have two options. You could work full-time for organizations whose only mission is to assist in relief efforts. For example, you could work with the American Red Cross and travel to places where natural disasters have recently hit. Your second option is to volunteer only when disaster strikes, like when Louisiana experienced deadly flooding or Hurricane Matthew hit the Caribbean and the southeast coast.

Other organizations that disaster relief nurses work for include:

A disaster relief nurse has to be ready for it all. Yes, you’re primary objective is to provide medical care; but many volunteers do additional tasks like distributing clothing, taking out trash, leading support groups, or sweeping floors. Volunteers also must be prepared for the possibility of primitive conditions such as inadequate food, shelter, running water, supplies, and other essentials. Depending on the situation, you might be treating patients in a hospital or in a field. This type of nursing is all hands on deck. These nurses aren’t afraid to get dirty – literally.

Things To Consider Before Taking the Job

Becoming a disaster relief nurse is not for everyone. Before you consider volunteering, think long and hard about the following:

Your endurance

This might seem like a no-brainer for nurses who already spend 12 hours on their feet, but if you are new to nursing, think about if you are physically fit and healthy enough to both survive the experience and help others. Relief work is physically exhausting. In addition to working 12-hour days (or longer), you might not return to an air-conditioned or heated facility at the end of your shift. It is more likely that you will sleep on a cot in a room with others.

Your family

Before volunteering, it’s important to make sure that both you and your family feel comfortable with the separation. Volunteers are away from their family for an extended period of time, and often without contact during the service period. Explain to your family why you’re volunteering, who you’ll be helping and why you feel compelled to help.

Your mental state

After seeing such extreme situations and suffering, it is not uncommon for volunteers to share the feelings of loss and overwhelm that disaster victims experience. Some volunteers have a desire to fix it all, but they have to keep in mind that the main focus is to stabilize the patient – not cure them. As a disaster relief nurse, you would be challenged to do the same.

Before You Get the ‘It’s go time!’ Call

Disaster can strike at any minute. If you sign up to volunteer, be sure to have the following in place prior to volunteering:

  • An Emergency Plan: Make sure that both your volunteer organization and your family have all of the contact names and numbers they need in case something happens while you are serving.
  • Current Health Records: This one may seem like a no brainer, but don’t forget to update your immunizations and have a physical exam – whether it’s a requirement or not. Falling ill is the last thing you’d want to happen while trying to help others.
  • A Survival Kit: Have a kit of supplies ready for back-up. A few items the American Red Cross suggests you have are: a flashlight, gallons of water (one gallon per person, per day), non-perishable food items, sanitation and hygiene items, first aid kit, blanket, maps of the area, and batteries.

ken-faeldonia-northeastern-absn-graduateKen’s Experience: From Architect Student to Disaster Relief Nurse

Ken, a Northeastern University Accelerated BSN graduate, saw disaster relief nursing in action. In fact, it’s what inspired him to become a nurse! Ken was earning a degree in interior architecture and design in New York City when a typhoon struck the Philippines. He dropped what he was doing and went there knowing he could help. That’s when he had an epiphany about his career goals.

“I went there to help farm, but I really wanted to help with medical relief,” Ken said. “I can’t really help people in developing nations with a degree in helping people’s houses look beautiful.”

It was that defining moment that inspired Ken to become a nurse.

After completing the accelerated BSN program at Northeastern University, Ken started working in Boston. Though he stopped studying architecture, he still has plans to travel and help others – but as a nurse.

“I’ll continue to travel around the world and provide care to developing countries who need medical help – and continue saving the world,” he says.

Become a Nurse With A Global Focus

Our distinctive approach to education and research is part of the reason Ken chose to become a nurse through Northeastern University.

“When I visited Northeastern University, I learned their mission is [for students] to be global citizens and that’s exactly what I was looking for in a school,” he says. “I knew this was the best school to be in because we share the same vision: to work together to help people all over the world.”

Ken found exactly what he was looking for at Northeastern University, and you can too. If you have a desire to help others, not just in your town, but all over the world, consider pursuing your accelerated nursing degree with Northeastern University. If you have a previous non-nursing degree, you could graduate in as few as 16 months. Contact an admissions counselor today!

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