By Katie McMullen, Communications Manager at Health Volunteers Overseas

Nurses are an essential component of the global health workforce, and a necessary part of any well-functioning health system. They can be found delivering preventive interventions in primary care clinics, responding to crises in emergency departments and operating rooms, and supporting patients living with chronic diseases. Because nurses serve at every level of the health care spectrum, they play a pivotal role in the pursuit of universal health coverage.

In recognition of this role, Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO) – a DC-based nonprofit organization dedicated to improving global health through education – invests in the nursing workforce in resource-scarce countries through its nursing education program.

The nursing staff at Hue University of Medicine and Pharmacy poses with a visiting HVO volunteer. Photo by Maria Mendoza, EdD, RN, ANP, GNP-BC, CDE, CNE, courtesy of Health Volunteers Overseas.

“Investing in the local health workforce is a necessary step to reducing the social and economic impacts of injury and illness, and ultimately to achieving universal health coverage,” wrote HVO Executive Director Nancy Kelly, MHS in an article on the Pyxera Global Engagement Forum.

HVO partners with health institutions in low-resource countries to provide education and professional development opportunities to the local health workforce. With the support from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), HVO’s nursing education program recruits qualified nurses and nurse educators to support their counterparts in resource-scarce countries. Ho Thi Thuy Trang, the former on-site coordinator for HVO’s nursing education project at Hue University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Hue, Vietnam, described the impact of these volunteers: “In my opinion, HVO volunteers support us in terms of faculty capacity, nursing role, research and so on.”

The exchange of knowledge, skills and ideas that occurs at HVO’s nursing education project sites empowers local providers and volunteers alike, preparing them to take on new roles at their home institutions and to lead the way in improving the quality and availability of nursing care for patients across the globe.

HVO volunteers in a training demonstration with Tanzanian nursing staff. Photo by Rose McGrath, courtesy of Health Volunteers Overseas.

“Observing nurses in Tanzania and witnessing their ingenuity and tenacity is a humbling experience,” reported HVO Rose McGrath, RN. “I have learned from them as much as I hoped they learned from me.”

In 2017, volunteers in HVO’s nursing education program contributed 245 days of service, and the average volunteer trained more than 11 providers per assignment. Collectively, these volunteers helped prepare practicing nurses and those in training to provide an array of health services, including symptom management for patients with chronic illnesses, end-of-life care for the terminally ill, maternal and newborn care, trauma care and wound management, and mental health services. In addition to empowering their colleagues to provide high quality care to patients of varying health statuses and at all stages of life, HVO volunteers boost the morale of nurses practicing under the most difficult conditions.

“The nurses and head physician of the [Special Care Babies Unit] both commented that having us in the unit improves their morale, knowing that we care about them, that we understand their daily challenges… and that we are committed to their education and supporting them in providing quality care to their babies and their families with love and compassion,” wrote Ellen Milan, RNC-NIC, who has worked with nursing staff at Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda on numerous volunteer assignments.

Volunteering abroad is an opportunity for nurses and other health care professionals to revisit the values that motivated them to enter the health care workforce, while simultaneously providing needed support to their colleagues in resource-scarce countries. HVO has a current need for experienced nurse educators and nurse practitioners (with master’s or doctoral level credentials) who are interested in completing a short-term assignment at project sites in Cambodia, Laos, Tanzania, Uganda and Vietnam. In addition, HVO has opportunities for nurse specialist volunteers at wound and lymphedema, hematology and oncology project sites around the globe.

HVO volunteers with Ugandan nursing staff. Photo by Ellen Milan, courtesy of Health Volunteers Overseas.

Visit the HVO website to learn more about current volunteer opportunities in nursing. Nurses interested in volunteering to strengthen nursing education programs in resource-scarce countries may be eligible for funding to help offset the costs associated with their assignment.

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