Doctors without Borders: A Good Fit for Nurses?

NursingDecember 01, 2023

Nurse Volunteer Opportunities: Doctors Without Borders Needs Nurses Too

Nurses may think the volunteer program Doctors Without Borders is not necessarily for them. Despite the name, nurses play key roles in the organization's mission to deliver emergency medical care to people suffering from disasters such as war or disease epidemics.

And Doctors Without Borders is only one of many organizations that rely on nurses to provide medical care and services. Attending nursing school can prepare individuals for a variety of nurse volunteer opportunities at home and abroad.

Nurses in Doctors Without Borders

Founded by a group of French doctors in 1971, Doctors Without Borders is a humanitarian organization that provides medical care to countries in crisis. Known around the world by its French name, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the organization operates in more than 70 countries. Nurses have been part of the group's volunteers from the beginning.

Nurses participate in volunteer programs that typically last nine to 12 months. The organization recruits registered nurses, nurse-midwives, operating room nurses, and nurse anesthesiologists. Nurses in the program help people who may not have access to healthcare without MSF. The impact they have on the local population is significant. For nurses whose goal is to move to a developing country and work full time serving the community, MSF can be the perfect option.

Joining the organization can also open doors at home for nurses. Employers often look for candidates who have volunteer service experience, especially for jobs in public health or those serving disadvantaged populations. Nurses can learn about uncommon medical conditions and diseases that may not have been discussed in their textbooks. They may also have more responsibilities and challenges than they are used to, which can prepare them for highly demanding jobs. They can gain invaluable experience dealing with cultural differences and language barriers.

But this is no entry-level opportunity: All of MSF's aid workers take on leadership roles supervising and training local teams, which is why management or teaching experience is required. According to MSF's website, nurses may spend little time taking care of patients and primarily focus on managing a program and a team. They receive a monthly salary, as well as compensation for airfare, visas, vaccinations, and medical insurance.

Other Nurse Volunteer Opportunities

In addition to Doctors Without Borders, many other organizations rely on nurse volunteers. While MSF takes nurses to international destinations, the American Red Cross, the American Nurses Association, and other organizations offer local volunteer opportunities.

The American Red Cross connects nurses to volunteering opportunities in their local area, which can include working at blood drives, working at vaccination clinics, or providing disaster relief services. Professional associations like the American Nurses Association and the National League for Nursing rely on volunteers to serve on content expert panels, write certification test questions, and review research grants. These nonclinical roles support the professional development of nurses. 

Another international organization that provides opportunities for nurse volunteers is Nursing Beyond Borders. This organization sends nurses to global destinations where they provide healthcare to children, particularly through orphanages, shelters, and underserved schools. In addition to team trips, Nursing Beyond Borders stations individual nurses to provide follow-up care.

Nurses can also find other opportunities to volunteer, including at local hospitals, hospices, crisis counseling centers, and community health organizations. 

Nurse Volunteer Requirements

Nurse volunteers must meet certain requirements. Some opportunities do not require a current registered nurse (RN) license. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many states waived licensure requirements for vaccine clinic volunteers. Other opportunities use an extensive process to screen volunteers. 

Getting accepted by MSF can be tougher than getting a first nursing job. Nurses may be asked about their community service contributions and international experience, as well as how well they would adapt to living in very basic conditions.

The organization is selective. If a nurse is not prepared to live in unsafe locations without material comfort, the program may not be for them. To be accepted into MSF, and to appreciate the experience, a nurse needs to be driven by a true passion to help people in need — not an opportunity to travel. Workers are often under curfew and may not be allowed to leave the area after the workday due to security concerns, although restrictions will be fewer in safer areas.

There are also more specific requirements, including a diploma and license, at least two years of relevant work experience, and applicable travel experience, preferably internationally.

If a nurse meets the requirements and can commit to spending nine to 12 months in an unfamiliar, stressful and possibly risky environment, joining Doctors Without Borders as a nurse can be a life-changing experience.

Nursing Beyond Borders similarly requires an active nursing license and at least one year of nursing experience. Some opportunities require pediatric nursing experience and fluency in the local language.

Several organizations also offer volunteer opportunities for nursing students. The American Red Cross, for example, relies on nursing student volunteers to serve communities and provide support services. When researching nurse volunteer opportunities, nurses should review the requirements to ensure a good fit. 

Prepare to Become a Nurse at Fortis

Nurses save lives around the world. You can prepare to become a licensed practical nurse or a registered nurse by enrolling in the practical nursing program or Associate Degree in Nursing program at Fortis. Fortis offers comprehensive programs that emphasize patient care and hands-on clinical experience. After gaining work experience, nurses can use their skills to pursue volunteer opportunities and make a difference in a community.

Find out more about Fortis’ nursing school programs today. 

Recommended Readings

5 Ways Nurses Are Making a Difference in Patients' Lives
How to Become a Travel Nurse
Opportunities to Volunteer Your Nursing Skills

American Nurses Association, Current Volunteer Opportunities
American Red Cross, Volunteer Opportunities
Doctors Without Borders, Registered Nurses/Nurse Practitioners
National League for Nursing, Volunteer Opportunities
Nursing Beyond Borders, Individual Nurse Needs