International/Missionary Nursing

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    Hi, I'm a 3rd year nursing student beginning the program this Fall. I figure I should start getting on my career track now, but I don't know where to start. I have no interest whatsoever in any type of nursing other than international/missionary nursing--I want to travel abroad and provide services to people and areas in need. What should I start doing now to prep myself for that type of nursing and also make myself more qualified to be hireable to an organization right after graduation?

    My background, if it matters:
    - 32 year old American male
    - 11 years experience as a psych tech at a state hospital
    - 1 year exp. in assisted living
    - expired C.N.A. certification

    Some other questions I have:

    Should I take a Spanish course until I'm fluent, or will that be learned on-the-job? I have a very basic grasp of it from high school.

    What should I expect to make? Obviously, I'm not doing it for the money, but good intentions won't pay off my school loans.

    What are some good organizations I should look into working for?

    Thanks in advance. I'm new here, and this is my first post, and I'm looking forward to meeting you guys!
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  3. 5 Comments so far...

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    I don't know why this was moved here from volunteer nursing where there are more likely posters with relevant experience. But off the top of my head, I would think the easiest way to be of use would be to get a masters of public health. Otherwise, some useful specialty, like eye surgery. Either way, you are probably talking two years post RN before you could be an effective team member. Try contacting some of the well known services, like Doctors Without Borders to find out the skill sets they are looking for.
    kskaggs126 likes this.
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    Doctors without Boarders uses RNs, I'm not sure if you need your BSN or not, but most likely you do. Also, you need to have at least a year to give to the service program you get chosen for. You cannot choose where you go, but to me, that's okay. I'm not sure on the pay, but I know that they write letters to your loan institutions for deferment, so I guess technically you gain a year of experience in a hardship country, don't have to think about your loans, and when you come back you can choose another job, and use what pay you DID receive to go towards your loans, and then do it again (go for a year, come back, pay your loans, get another deferment from DWB, etc.) The only thing is you are responsible for your travel and (I think) lodging once you get your assignment, except for the orientation and briefing assignment in NY. You can check out the website for more details.
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    I have been a missionary nurse off and on since 2002. I lived in Honduras for 2.5 years, then did short term trips while I went back for my FNP then lived in Guatemala for 2 years and now am in Guanaja Honduras for the last year. Mission nursing is a calling most folks don't even make it 2 years - mostly for financial reasons. Most mission organizations do not pay, you fund raise your own support, typically signing up with a mission agency or as we do our church handles our donations. Some places will give you a place to live - most do not. Get on the internet and start searching. Once you find a couple of places that look interesting go there for at least a month, 3 would be better. You need to get past the visitor stage to really see if you fit with the organization. Each one operates differently and has different rules that you may or may not be able to live with.

    If you plan to go to Central America or most of South America it is time to start taking Spanish. You will not be able to do a lot if you can not communicate in Spanish. Guatemala has a bunch of Spanish schools that have volunteer opportunities that you could get involved with. It takes about 3 months of full time classes to begin to be functional with your Spanish. Some take longer. 1 month will make it so you can go to the store and buy stuff or say some basic stuff. If you start at home you can at least get a jump start on vocabulary - just make sure some one helps you with the pronunciation.

    I would highly suggest getting at least a years experience before starting in the mission field. School gives you the basics but the practical application is more important. ER experience is the best (in my opinion). Learn what ever you can. Have a doc teach you to suture, ask why one antibiotic is used instead of another. Pick peoples brains. Tell them why you are bothering them and they will be more willing to give you tidbits of information. Ignore technology, in third world countries it is what I call "gut" medicine. You ask a lot of question, do the best exam you can then go with your gut - simple to more uncommon. I have diagnosed patients with everything from Malaria to leukemia, treated pregnancy to seizures. You really have no idea what the next patient is going to have and that think all nurses are doctors and since you are from the US you will have the answer to their problem
    It is tough, you live in a different culture, fight loneliness, strange illnesses and frequently ask to give away anything you have. Preparation and flexibility is the key. All that being said I wouldn't change my job for the world it is fabulously rewarding.
    If you have any specific questions send them my way.
    Best of luck in school -Cheryl
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    Re Doctors Without Borders:

    --I don't think you need a BSN but you will definitely need nursing experience. Surgery, ER, OB/GYN, Peds are a few useful specialties that come to mind, though people with lots of different backgrounds go. They have a huge range of projects including primary health, inpatient, surgery, nutrition, vaccination, community health, L&D, HIV, TB.... the list goes on.

    --Personal travel & international experience can be a big plus with them, even if it's not specifically medical - they ask about this in the application/interview.

    --In my experience, knowing other languages is never wasted, but Spanish assignments with Doctors Without Borders are few and far between. French, however, is super useful with them. They will sometimes send you to French immersion once you have worked with them for a while, but if you have languages to begin with it will help your application a lot.

    --The organization is non-religious and non-political. I suggest making sure that you feel aligned philosophically with the organization that you choose. While missionary nursing and working for non-religious humanitarian orgs share a lot, there can also be significant differences in everything from what they are looking for in candidates to the approach to work in the field.

    --Doctors Without Borders tends to be more clinical than a lot of other international health orgs but as a nurse you typically would be in a management role. Sometimes you do more direct clinical work, but as a rule you should be prepared to manage people and projects. Of course you still need to know your stuff clinically in order to manage/teach/etc.

    --I think they will help arrange loan deferment but the actual pay you'll get will not be much. If you want advice - I say get a job in a useful specialty, throw as much as you possibly can at those loans for the next couple of years, maybe try to do a couple short-term things in the meantime for a few weeks at a time to keep yourself motivated, etc., and gain more experience.

    --MPH - could be a great choice for you. RN/MPH is very marketable in the humanitarian field. BUT could add so much to your loan burden that you would feel too limited to do low-paying work. Timing is essential...

    --Great advice above from Cheryl. Important to be resourceful, manage stress, be flexible. You will end up using everything you learn.

    Happy to answer any other questions.. good luck to you.
    Last edit by desta on Jun 10, '13 : Reason: rearrange for better flow/cohesion
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    @CBrown12 Wow Cheryl, your experience is so inspiring!
    I hope one day to be able to do what you have done, perhaps on a smaller scale. I cannot imagine how rewarding it is to serve people in that "raw" way, without all the gadgets and gizmos!

    Thank you so much for sharing!


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