By Melissa Wirkus, associate editor
One of the most rewarding ways that nursing students can get important hands-on nursing experience is by lending their skills, knowledge and time as a volunteer.
From formal volunteer programs to impromptu acts of community service, student nurses nationwide can make a difference in their local communities while also bettering themselves as a nurse through volunteering.
Student nurses will gain valuable professional and clinical experience by volunteering their time and skills with organizations such as the American Red Cross and National Student Nurses Association.
According to volunteer experts, finding the right work for your schedule and interests is an important part of becoming involved as a volunteer. Student nurses looking to become involved in a structured and organized volunteer program often look to the American Red Cross.
Krissy Califf, volunteer program coordinator for the San Diego and Imperial Counties American Red Cross, said that student nurses are desperately needed for disaster response efforts in San Diego and nationwide.
“In San Diego alone, approximately every 28 hours we respond to a single-family house fire,” Califf said. “Volunteers help the displaced with the basics; food water and shelter. But when the fire involves 12 or more families, such as an apartment complex, a shelter must be opened. And to open up a shelter, we must have a nurse on site.”
Although a student nurse would have to be accompanied by a registered nurse, volunteering for disaster response gives the student valuable hands-on experience in first-aid and basic medical care, Califf said.
Professional Growth through Volunteering
Volunteering for the American Red Cross, at hospitals or for other professional nursing organizations, puts student nurses in direct contact with working nurses who can provide insight and advice on nursing and its different career paths. It is a great opportunity to network with experienced nurses while also learning new nursing skills and making a difference in the community.
“When a student nurse volunteers, they are able to observe and work with professional nurses,” Califf said. “This interaction is so valuable. It is a way of mentoring for the students.”
“Our nurse volunteers come from all different backgrounds,” Califf said. “Some work in military hospitals and some work in civilian hospitals, so students can learn about the different settings they can work in and the different things they can do as a nurse.”
Although their specialized skills make student nurses valuable to the disaster response programs, The American Red Cross offers many other avenues for volunteerism including blood drives, homeless shelters, certification courses and special projects.
“When a student nurse volunteers, not only does it help the Red Cross, but it helps their community and neighbors.”
Candace Biberston, director of the National Student Nurses Association (NSNA) and chair of the NSNA Community Health Committee, said there are various ways to volunteer through NSNA, both nationally and through the state chapters.
“You can always volunteer and be a part of the numerous committees we have,” Biberston said. “There are always community health programs going on as well. And you can always volunteer to help out at a convention.”
Student nurses will find that almost any organization they get involved with will have volunteer opportunities open that fit their schedules as well as individual interests.
“Every local chapter of NSNA always has something going on for student nurses to get involved with,” Biberston said. “There are projects like collecting eyeglasses for their community or making blankets. We also do volunteer work with the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society.
Some colleges and classes will even give credits to students who complete a certain amount of volunteer hours over the course of a semester.
“Volunteering adds an entirely different perspective to nursing,” Biberston said. “Nursing is all about service and volunteering adds that other dimension by making sure you are involved in the community. It says ‘I’m here, I want to serve and I want to help make a difference.’”
To learn more about volunteer opportunities with the American Red Cross visit their Student Nurse page.
Get involved through NSNA here or contact your local chapter.
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