Challenges and Rewards: What to Expect When You Volunteer Abroad as a Nurse

Challenges and Rewards: What to Expect When You Volunteer Abroad as a Nurse

Volunteering abroad as a nurse may be one of the best decisions you can make in your medical journey. You’re going to meet new people, learn new things, and tap into expert insights. Great experiences, indeed, but it’s not always going to be smooth sailing, as you may also encounter challenges that, if you navigate well, will make you stronger.

Volunteer abroad as a nurse
Fig: Volunteer abroad as a nurse

This guide is here to share with you the rewards of taking nursing volunteer opportunities and help you prepare for the challenges lying in wait. Read on!

The Rewards of Volunteer Nursing Projects:

Volunteering abroad as a nurse offers a unique opportunity to combine your passion for helping others with significant personal and professional growth. Here’s a closer look at some of the rewards:

Global Health Impact:

Let’s take a look at the numbers. Countries like Finland and Switzerland have the highest number of nurses per 1,000 people, with 18.9 and 18.4, respectively. On the flip side, Sub-Saharan Africa has a paltry 1.3/1,000, while East Asia and the Pacific have an average of 3.3. (1) (2) (3).

These two sides of the coin show you one thing: depending on where you end up as a volunteer nurse abroad, you’ll likely meet people with great need for your knowledge and services. Perhaps you’ll fill critical gaps in care. Maybe educate patients about hygiene, sanitation, etc.

If you believe that this is the right path for you, consider visiting or websites of other reputable organizations focused on nursing volunteer abroad programs. These agencies can provide essential resources to support you throughout your journey.

Professional Growth:

In your home hospital, you often rely on specific equipment and medications. That’s not a luxury you’re likely to find when you complete nursing volunteer projects abroad. You’ll have to think outside the box; you might need to use inventive techniques to sterilize instruments or find creative ways to administer medication without the usual pumps or syringes.

This resourcefulness hones your critical thinking, problem-solving, and clinical decision-making skills, which are total assets in any nursing career that comes after your volunteer experience.

Cultural Exchange:

Practically every place in the world has its own culture. As a medical volunteer abroad, you’ll be exposed to what the people in the regions you volunteer in hold dear.

You’ll get to learn basic phrases in the local language; this can help you better connect with patients and understand cultural beliefs about illnesses and treatments. This exposure not only enhances your communication skills as a nurse volunteer but also fosters a deeper appreciation for the diversity of human experience.

These are some of the rewards that come with volunteering abroad. But there are also a few challenges to ponder upon.

The Challenges:

Here are some key hurdles you need to be aware of and some tips to get around them:

1. Limited Resources:

Clinics abroad might have limited supplies and medication and even outdated equipment. If you end up in such regions, you can expect to face significant challenges. Of course, they are pretty tough, but they aren’t impossible to overcome. Here are some tips to help:

2. Be Prepared:

Pack basic medical supplies you can easily bring, like wound care materials, sterile syringes, and analgesics. Just make sure you get clearance from customs.

3. Prioritize Effectively:

Learn to triage and prioritize care based on the available resources.

4. Collaborate:

Work closely with local healthcare providers to find creative solutions and optimize the use of existing resources.

5. Language and Cultural Barriers:

There are thousands of languages in the world. So, when you volunteer abroad, chances are high you’ll encounter one that’s totally alien to you. Here’s how to bridge the gap:

6. Basic Language Skills:

Learn some essential phrases in the local language to establish rapport and gather basic information from patients.

7. Non-Verbal Communication:

Utilize nonverbal cues like facial expressions and gestures to enhance understanding.

8. Translation Tools:

Consider using translation apps or partnering with a translator volunteer if available.

9. Cultural Sensitivity:

Respect and understand local cultural beliefs about health and illness. This will help you tailor your approach and avoid unintentionally causing offense.

10. Emotional Strain:

Witnessing poverty, limited access to healthcare, and severe illness can be emotionally draining. Here are some ways to cope:

11. Strong Support System:

Connect with other volunteers and build a support network to share experiences and debrief.

12. Self-Care:

Prioritize your own well-being through healthy habits like exercise, meditation, or journaling.

Final Thoughts:

Volunteering abroad is no doubt a rewarding venture once you find ways to cope with the challenges. Hopefully, this guide has opened your eyes to a few of those ways to cope. If this is something you wish to pursue, don’t hesitate to reach out to those experienced in medical volunteering for guidance and support.


1. “Number of practicing nurses worldwide as of 2021, by country (per 1,000 population)”,

2. “Nurses and midwives (per 1,000 people) – Sub-Saharan Africa”,

3. “Nurses and midwives (per 1,000 people) – East Asia & Pacific (excluding high income)”,

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top