The current shortage of qualified nurses in the United States means that nurses are in high demand all across the country. However, getting your first job out of college still can prove a challenge. Many of the nursing shortages exist in rural areas or specific specialties instead of the metropolitan zones. Additionally, employers often want to see actual job experience on your resume before they will even consider you for a position. Hence, the vicious cycle of starting out in any career ‒ to get experience, you must work first, but to get a job, you need experience.
It’s here that volunteering plays a crucial role in your resume-building experience. It’s not only a rewarding experience, both personally and professionally, but you’ll receive real-life experience as well. While you won’t earn an income, volunteering helps you get your first job, and it looks good on your college applications and on scholarship applications. Plus, it offers the added bonus of differentiating your resume from the competition. Moreover, volunteering is simply a great way to give back to the community and help out those who need it most. Even nurses with established careers or who have retired often choose to volunteer.
Where to Look for Volunteer Opportunities
Opportunities to volunteer are abundant in the United States and all across the world. In your community, look for volunteer positions at your local clinic, emergency shelters, and non-profit organizations. Alternatively, reach out to larger organizations and their local chapters, such as the American Red Cross or the many nursing associations across the country that often can guide you to open volunteer positions. Some volunteer options you may want to take a closer look at for varying stages of your career include:
If You’re in High School
1. Volunteer at Your Local Hospital
Most hospitals have special programs for volunteers. To take part in one, you will likely fill out an application, take a TB test, potentially get a flu shot, and participate in a short training orientation. Volunteering at a hospital is an ideal way to expose yourself to the health care system and learn more about nursing. Keep in mind, however, that you will not perform any duties that require special training, so you will work primarily on the administrative side of the hospital.
2. Shadow a Doctor or a Nurse
To get a little more up-close and personal with the daily tasks of a medical care provider, find opportunities to shadow a nurse or a doctor. Summer is the best time to volunteer in this capacity since your schedule is likely to be more flexible. Shadowing means that you will literally follow the doctor or nurse around as she goes about her day and perhaps even perform some of her basic tasks. Find opportunities to volunteer through your high school or by directly contacting the organization or the person you’d like to shadow.
3. Special Summer Programs
Various colleges, universities and organizations offer summer volunteer programs for high school students. These types of volunteering positions not only help your college application stand out in a crowded field, but they also allow to gain insight into a career that interests you. Keep in mind that they often require tuition fees.
If You’re in Nursing School
1. American Red Cross
One of the largest non-profit organizations in the country, the Red Cross has special programs for student nurse volunteers. To participate, students are encouraged to read through the volunteering guide and then contact their local chapter to set up a meeting with a volunteer coordinator. This individual should be able to help connect you to volunteer opportunities. Student nurses also may also train to serve as volunteers on nursing disaster response teams.
2. Intern at Your Local Hospital or Clinic
Volunteer or intern at your local hospital or clinic. While competitive, these positions offer an ideal opportunity to build your resume and learn directly from mentors in your field. You should be able to find opportunities through your college or directly on the hospital’s website. You will probably have to complete both an application and an interview process.
3. Non-Profit Organizations
Many organizations, such as shelters and other spaces that provide care for those in need, offer basic medical services. Contribute your skills to these organizations by volunteering and helping out those in your community who need basic health care but who are unable to receive it for some reason.
For Practicing Nurses
Whether you’re looking to continue building your skills in a particular specialization or simply would like to give back to your community, a variety of volunteer opportunities exist for accredited nurses. The best place to start your search is through local volunteer job boards and community organizations. With a nurse’s busy schedule, volunteering may prove difficult simply because you don’t have many hours left in your day, but it can allow you to share your skills with the less fortunate with the amount of time you do have.
Many organizations offer opportunities to volunteer abroad. High school and college students, as well as accredited nurses, can find programs that suit their skill level and interests. These programs offer a lot of advantages, especially if you would like to combine your training and resume building with a bit of travel. They also provide a new perspective, so you will learn a lot about other cultures and different practices in the medical field.
Keep a few key points in mind when searching for a volunteer program: Research carefully to make sure that the organization managing the program is making a positive impact in the communities in which they work. Volunteering abroad gives you the opportunity to assess your adaptability and flexibility to live in potentially challenging day-to-day conditions and get exposed to different mentalities and ways of living. Volunteering abroad can offer an extremely rewarding experience for the right type of candidate in the right organization.