Be the change you want to see in the world. ~ Ghandi

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Working abroad - especially with fewer resources than we are accustomed to - has a way of stretching us.  We must adapt our practices to different cultures, languages, lifestyles and approach to health and medical needs.  Our Best Practices nursing framework has to be set aside and replaced with a MacGyver Mentality to do the best we can with what we have at hand.
Humanitarian nursing requires an entirely new skill set.  Emergency nurses- with our flexibility, adaptability and broad knowledge base - are uniquely positioned to thrive in this unique environment.  Emergency nurses reach out eagerly (although not necessarily without fear) for new, rich experiences "up close and personal" in places we've only read about in National Geographic.

Emergency nurses think on our feet.  A 19 gauge injection needle can substitute for an IO in an overwhelming cholera outbreak.  A plastic water bottle with the end cut off serves as an inhaler spacer.  Duct tape will close a laceration.  Acetaminophen works wonders.  Smiles, gestures and pantomime substitute for language.
But hands on nursing skills are not all that are required in the complex humanitarian field.  Nurses become hospital administrators, teachers and trainers, water and sanitation engineers, midwives, logisticians, project managers.  We frequently diagnose, treat and prescribe in the absence of a physician.  Few non-governmental organizations have practice standards or guidelines, so nurses must arm ourselves with information prior to travel and herein lies the rub.

The lack of humanitarian
nursing resources thwart even the most dedicated internet search.  One Nurse At A Time ( was created to fill this information void.  The goals of the organization are threefold: 
* to assist nurses volunteer their skills and knowledge at home and abroad
* to lower the entry barriers for nurses to volunteer
* to educate the public about the roles and contributions of nurses in the humanitarian world
Assistance.  The One Nurse At A Time website offers a free, up-to-date directory of national and international organizations using nurses in their programs.  It's also a place to ask questions:  How do I get started?  Where should I go?  How do I plan?  How can I balance work and family and volunteering?
Future plans are to create a body of freely accessible information covering topics related to humanitarian nursing to help nurses better prepare for unique practice settings.
Scholarships.  Volunteer work, by definition, doesn't pay.  Many, if not most, international organizations ask nurses to pay their own transportation, room and board, and sometimes a team fee.  In order to volunteer, the nurse must also use vacation time or unpaid leave from work.  Volunteers often can do one mission, but most can't afford to go frequently.  To overcome this hurdle, One Nurse At A Time has a scholarship program offering $1000 to qualified applicants - at least one per quarter.  Donations are most welcome and can be made online or by check (information on the website).  More donations translate into more scholarships.
Public recognition.  Telling our stories in public forums - social networks, articles, public speaking, anthologies like Nurses Beyond Borders (, reaching out to the public - all help to spread the word about the vital role we nurses play.  Although the majority of Americans have some understanding of what nurses do in the United States - working in clinics, hospitals, nursing homes and the community - most of them have no idea what nurses do when they volunteer abroad. We are eager to share our experiences and challenge conventional wisdom about nursing practices in remote settings.
One Nurse At A Time has an ambitious agenda of partnering with hospitals to assist nurses volunteer, organizing a body of humanitarian nursing knowledge to prepare a unique skill set and continuing to provide scholarships and advice so that together - One Nurse At A Time - we can change the world.
By Sue Averill, RN, MBA President One Nurse At A Time.

Republished with permission:  Vital Lines’ and it is Volume 28, Issue 1 Winter 2011. Pages 3 & 8.