How to Volunteer Nursing Services

Beautiful teen girl dressed in nursing home volunteer help uniform. Shot with the Canon 20D.
If you’re a registered nurse with a current license, you should be able to find plenty of volunteer opportunities to help those in need.
©iStockphoto/Jaimie D. Travis

If you're involved in the nursing world, you know there's plenty of work to be done. With 2.6 million registered nurses, nursing is the largest health care profession in the United States [source: Maryland Health Careers]. But, as in any profession, job burnout is common. One day you're happily taking a patient's temperature, and the next day you just want to stay in bed. The best way to regain the original magic is to stop looking at nursing as a job. Forget the corporate politics and snarky coworkers -- polish that stethoscope, straighten your scrubs and become a volunteer.

There are plenty of short- or long-term volunteer nursing opportunities, depending on your schedule. Small jobs can be found through your local doctors' offices, hospitals and schools. Larger or longer volunteering opportunities arise during natural disasters, on trips overseas or through nursing placement groups. Volunteer nurses have served with the American Red Cross since 1909. Today, roughly 30,000 nurses are actively involved [source: American Red Cross].


Whether you're working with a small-town medical facility or a worldwide organization, you can feel proud that you're using your skills on people who really appreciate your care and support. And you'll find that offering your time to those in need will provide you with the feel-good benefits of serving your fellow citizens.

No matter which type of nursing degree or certification you hold, you can volunteer. So what do volunteer nurses do? Read on to learn about volunteer nursing duties.


Volunteer Nursing Duties

Volunteer nursing duties are much like paid nursing duties. You can count on visiting with patients, doing clerical work and performing basic medical treatments. At the Missouri Baptist Medical Center, volunteer nurses:

  • Assist with patient hygiene
  • Feed patients
  • Provide direct patient care
  • Provide one-on-one observation
  • Perform technical functions (such as checking vital signs or changing dressings)
  • Assist with admissions, discharges or transfers
  • Perform clerical duties

Volunteers are just as important at small clinics as they are at large hospitals. At the Beach Health Clinic in Virginia Beach, volunteer nurses provide care to the working poor and the uninsured.


You'll find a wide variety of duties if you choose to volunteer abroad. As a volunteer nurse with Doctors Without Borders in 2006, Gabriela Adao worked with Liberian tuberculosis patients to ensure they were recovering and taking their medications. That same year, midwife Lisa Errol also volunteered with Doctors Without Borders in Liberia. She worked with malnourished children, helped treat diseases and provided vaccinations [Doctors Without Borders].

Obviously, not just anyone can volunteer to be a nurse. Different organizations have different requirements, however. On the next page we'll talk about how to find out if you qualify.


Volunteer Nursing Requirements

As with any career or volunteer opportunity, there are requirements for becoming a volunteer nurse. You can contact the organization of your choice to learn about specifics. Generally, you will find the same types of requirements. Here is what you'll need to work with Doctors Without Borders as a volunteer nurse:

  • A diploma or degree and current license that's related to the work you will do
  • Recent direct patient-care experience
  • Training in teaching, supervising or training

The following aren't required by Doctors Without Borders, but they come in handy:


  • Training in infectious diseases (such as TB and HIV/AIDs), tropical medicine or public health
  • Managerial experience

Many volunteering groups also require that you pass a background check.

The Texas Board of Nursing recognizes retired nurse volunteers as a special category under the medical volunteering umbrella. The requirements include being older than 65 years old, keeping current on licensing and training, and paying a fee of $10 for every two years you're with the program. Your state may also offer this type of volunteer authorization, so check with your local nursing board.

Once you have all of the requirements fulfilled, you might need special information to serve your patients. Read on to learn about volunteer nursing training.


Volunteer Nursing Training

Depending on what type of nursing you'll be doing, you may need to sign up for training. Some programs have one-time training opportunities, or you may be asked to participate in a training schedule. The Maryland Board of Nursing trains medical staff to help out in disaster situations as part of the Maryland Professional Volunteer Corps. The board is revamping its training program to include face-to-face training, online classes and refreshers, conferences, tabletop exercises, networking and drills.

Volunteers for the Visiting Nurse Service of Hospice and Palliative Care in Akron, Ohio, attend two four-hour training sessions to learn how to care for hospice patients. Those who are already involved with the group mentor general volunteers and volunteer nurses. Then volunteers are matched with opportunities that best suit their interests and needs.


You can also find training opportunities for volunteer nursing abroad. Many organizations offer opportunities for international volunteering. You may need to participate in language or cultural training before you leave the United States.

Why sign up to be a volunteer nurse? Read on to learn about the benefits of being a nursing volunteer.


Benefits of Being a Volunteer Nurse

When you volunteer as a nurse, you're providing health care and comfort to people who are in a state of physical weakness. Helping someone feel better is the top benefit of providing your services free of charge. You're also getting extra hands-on training and the ability to network within the medical field. Depending on where you volunteer, you may also receive additional perks.

At the Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, volunteers receive meal passes, access to the employee fitness center, free parking, access to the Hartford Hospital Medical Sciences and Robinson Libraries, recreational activities through the Employees' Council, health screenings and free educational seminars. At Randolph Hospital in North Carolina, volunteers also receive gift shop discounts, free annual vaccinations, tax deductions and discounts at local businesses and attractions. Most volunteer programs also offer an annual volunteer recognition banquet or party, where you can be recognized for all of your hard work.


Now that you know more about being a nursing volunteer, get out there and get involved. You will meet new people, use your hard-earned skills and emotionally and spiritually benefit from your work. Most importantly, your patients and volunteer managers will be eternally grateful.

For more information, visit the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • ARC. "About Us: Nursing." (Accessed 06/01/09)
  • Beach Health Clinic. "Volunteer." (Accessed 06/01/09)
  • CNN. "Killer nurse gets 11 life sentences." 03/10/09. (Accessed 06/01/09)
  • Doctors Without Borders. "Midwife Lisa Errol in Salala, Liberia: 'Unable to speak and barely able to breathe, Alice burned with fever.'" 01/27/06.
  • Doctors Without Borders. "Nurse Gabriela Adao: New Strategies for Treating Children with Tuberculosis in Liberia." 03/24/06. (Accessed 06/01/09)
  • Doctors Without Borders. "Work in the Field: Registered Nurses/Nurse Practitioners." (Accessed 06/01/09)
  • Hartford Hospital. "Volunteer Benefits." (Accessed 06/01/09)
  • Missouri Baptist Medical Clinic. "Volunteer Nursing Program." (Accessed 06/01/09)
  • Maryland Board of Nursing. "Maryland Professional Volunteer Corps." (Accessed 06/01/09)
  • Maryland Health Careers. "Nursing Careers." (Accessed 06/01/09)
  • Palm Beach County Health Department. "Volunteer School Nurse Program." (Accessed 06/01/09)
  • Randolph Hospital. "Volunteer Benefits." (Accessed 06/01/09)
  • Texas Board of Nursing. "FAQ-Volunteer Retired Nurse Authorization." (Accessed 06/01/09)
  • The Suburbanite. "Spring volunteer training sessions from Visiting Nurse Service." 04/27/09. (Accessed 06/01/09)
  • University of Virginia Health System. "Junior Volunteer Program." (Accessed 06/01/09)