New Book Provides Guide for Nurse Volunteers on Global Missions
The first time Rhonda Martin, MPH, BSN, RN, traveled to a foreign country for a nursing mission was in college. For one month, she lived in a leprosarium in Tanzania, run by German missionaries, and drove out to remote villages with a public health nurse each day.
“We lived in harsh conditions – the same ones the locals live in every day,” said Martin, a nurse in the ICU Float Pool at BWH with multiple volunteer missions to her credit. “That experience set the stage for me to be more adventurous, and the world view it provided made quite an impression on me as a 19-year-old.”
That first mission taught Martin the level of preparation she and other volunteers needed before signing on to any global health mission. To help fill what she saw as a void in materials available to prepare nurses on the topic, she recently co-authored “Volunteering at Home and Abroad: The Essential Guide for Nurses,” published this spring by Sigma Theta Tau International.
“The main thing to keep in mind when you’re considering signing up for a volunteer mission is that good intentions aren’t enough,” said Martin, whose most recent travels include missions in Rwanda, the Dominican Republic and Nepal. “If you want to participate, you need to prepare. Otherwise, you’ll be ineffective at best—and harmful at worst.”
Edited and co-written by Jeanne Leffers, PhD, RN, and Julia Plotnick, MPH, RN, FAAN, the book provides a thorough guide that covers topics from choosing a project and navigating unfamiliar territory to understanding ethical dilemmas and integrating your experiences when you return home.
BWH’s Director of Global Health and Academic Partnerships Patrice Nicholas, DNSc, RN, ANP, FAAN, who reviewed the book, called it a “must-have” for any nurse considering a national or international volunteer opportunity. “It is perhaps the most thorough coverage of volunteering in nursing from the early history of Florence Nightingale to present-day volunteering in disaster relief and resource-limited settings,” Nicholas wrote. She added, “Through our formal and informal efforts in our Department of Nursing, volunteering to address the health of the world’s people is a priority for BWH.”
In addition to self-assessment tools, the book also provides packing lists, tips for personal health and safety and strategies that address cultural differences. Other resources include checklists for identifying important factors in a volunteer organization and a guide to determine the fit between your self-assessment and the organization you select. In addition, the “Changing Lives” feature weaves stories and perspectives throughout each section of the book, providing glimpses into the experiences of nurses new to volunteering as well as those with decades of service.
Martin, who volunteered for relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina, contributed to a chapter on nursing response to disasters and authored two chapters on preparing for a mission.
“You can never make effective plans and programs for people unless you understand the obstacles they’re up against,” she said. “You can tell them to eat nutritious foods, but what if there aren’t any around? Solutions aren’t easy, and often, you can’t even identify the problems until you’ve immersed yourself in the way of life.”
“Volunteering at Home and Abroad: The Essential Guide for Nurses” features many tools, checklists, guides and other resources for nurses preparing for a global health mission. This self-assessment is designed to help nurses decide on the type of volunteer opportunity that bests suits their interests and needs.
Self-assessment inventory: motivation for service
How did I become interested in global health and nursing?
In what ways have I put my concern for others into action?
What have been the experiences in my life that might have influenced this interest?
Do I have a strong desire to travel to one particular setting?
Am I seeking adventure in a volunteer assignment?
Am I seeking excitement and change in my life?
Did a friend encourage me to join in the same volunteer assignment?
Am I seeking the opportunity to learn more about another culture?
Does my religious faith motivate me to volunteer?
Am I trying to get away from problems at home?
Has a recent media message inspired my desire to serve in a disaster?
What do I think I can contribute?
Do I believe that I can save people who live in poverty by my volunteer efforts?