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global health/NGOs/MSF/PC


I am an RN/BSN/MPH who had been searching for an international public health job (anything from HIV to women's rights to water and sanitation) for about a year and a half since completing my MPH in global health. I find through interviews, info sessions that my nursing experience in undervalued and often disregarded as any type of relevant experience at all. I am outraged by this of course, and have worked abroad with medical teams as such as well as in my community. One recruiter at USAID told me a peace corp experience perhaps weighing babies for two years would be much more valuable than my 5 years of urban ED/community health experience!

I search all the development and public health websites and apply to everything but keep not getting anywhere! so I've applied to both peace corp and doctors without borders and am waiting for placements to get out there in the field and begin! I'm excited, but worried about which to choose to continue on when I return, any advice? Any similar frustrations? what is going on with the disrespect in the global health realm with being a nurse?

I would be going to Africa to be a health volunteer, I've just hear/read so much about nurses early terminating for reasons related to productivity. I don't want to do that but am concerned!

Any advice would be great, as I keep watching all these international development masters grads get the jobs I want in global health, with little or no experience! Help! Thanks.


Specializes in CEN, CPEN, RN-BC. Has 4 years experience.

I find this disheartening because I'm an RN/BSN working towards a MPH. I hope something turns up! Have you tried USAJOBS.GOV? I'm not sure what your overall goal is, but there seems to always be "public health advisor" or "public health specialist" jobs listed, although most require you to work in Atlanta, DC, or Rockville, MD. Good luck!

I had a temp position for my state's Dept of Health in the communicable dz program. I found that my RN was so de-valued and dismissed to the point where they thought Clinical nurses are stupid and the bottom of the barrel- I have been a clinical bedside RN for 30 yrs. (med/surg, onc, critical care). The other RN's although few, in that office has very little(2,3 yrs tops)clinicalexperience and openly stated they hated bedside nursing and got out of it but if you had a master's- you could be top dog there. The skill set the office valued most was how well you could manuever EXCEL, and microsoft office. You could have not known how to spell H1N1 but if you could do an excel spread sheet- you were in. This is frighten considering these people investigate outbreaks and have major determinations/decisions on health care policies in infectious disease. Most of the workers were Bio, and Health Education majors(not Nursing majors) and then went on to get the MPH. They have only dealt with the statistics from an office enviornment, paper and pen stand, not up close, in your face and personel as a nurse does. For ex. They know what an antibiotic is( it is only a word)- but to actually observe an antibiotic in action on a real patient- they are clueless. The same goes for infectious dz- they read about it but to actually see the disease in action- clueless. I loved my 6 month experience there. I learned so much but that was MY doing from independent reading and it really got me psych'd into epidemiology, analyzing statistics and primary care. I would love to get my master's and I don't see myself ever going back to a hospital environment again. I would not find acute care ever satisfying again. It did change my career direction. I now have another temp position in a family health clinic., Temp positions are all the healthcare" powers that be" want to give us old timers now.


Specializes in med-surg, step-down, ICU/CCU, ED.

Hi there.

I am sorry you are having trouble finding a job in the international health field. It is hard, with or without PC/MSF exp. I remember when I was living in DC working in an int'l public health organization (before I became a nurse), there were scores of freshly minted MPHs looking to break into international public health. Most of them HAD done a stint in the Peace Corps or something similar. The problem is that there are really more MPHs out there than jobs available to them. One woman aptly compared breaking into Int'l public health with trying to make it as an actor/actress in Hollywood. It's all about the timing!

I must say that I'm surprised that people aren't giving any weight to your RN experience. It was my understanding that those with an MPH AND RN license stood out more and actually got the coveted job that the MPH alone folks wanted. I think the issue at hand for you is having international experience, which is why that guy told you to join the Peace Corps or similar. Many of the international orgs want to see that you have been overseas for an extended amount of time. Honestly, THAT is how you will get your foot in the door, imo. Being a community health/ED RN is great and all, but in the international arena you will not be doing bedside nursing, or much patient teaching for that matter. You will be helping to develop programs and/or managing and motivating the nursing staff overseas, and the NGOs probably want to see that you have done that, overseas (in a developing country) at some point on your resume.

Also I forgot to point out that working with medical teams abroad don't count as international health experience for some reason. I've done a couple of short term stints with medical teams and I was specifically told that it doesn't count as int'l exp, due to the length of time and the type of work involved. Go figure. :(

If you have applied to both Peace Corps and MSF, I would say to go with MSF. I have done both. The plus for PC is that you will make many connections, governmental and non-governmental. You will learn a language and quickly learn to be industrious, working with little to no supplies. The downside is that it's 2 years!! I was a PCV in my early twenties and fresh out of college so it was no biggie. But there is no way I could do that now! Also, a lot of the nurses early terminate because projects fall through and they end up doing a lot of waiting before they can get something else up and running, plus they see themselves as working "below their skill set". Some projects will end up being purely based on self-motivation, that is you get as much or as little out of it as you want.

I think that MSF would fit you better because you are more qualified to work for them than Peace Corps (because technically you don't have to be an RN to work on peace corps health care projects). Plus, their time commitment is much shorter, from 3 months to 1 year. Your MPH will make it even easier to place you, and you will be doing the work that most international NGO workers do. This of course can be a good and bad thing because the work involves a lot of monitoring and evaluating, which tends to get a little dry sometimes. Once you complete an assignment or two with MSF I think you will have little issues securing a position elsewhere in the int'l NGO world.

Ok well good luck!! Apologies for the lengthiness of this post but I always get excited when I "run into" a fellow nurse who's interested in international public health. Keep us posted on your progress!!


Edited by alem-tsahai


Specializes in Corrections, Med-Surg, Burn ICU.


THANK YOU for your lengthy message!!

Like Outsidethebox, I'm also interested in working in ID through healthcare.

I spent 3+ years in China, speak Mandarin fluently, and have a BA in International Studies... but it seemed next to impossible to break into ID or even a descent paying international business job while in Beijing. I came back, got my BSN and now work in a hospital.

I have found some ID jobs that have MD, PA, or NP as the required qualifications. This is one of the reasons I've decided to pursue a DNP degree instead of the MPH.

Alem (or anyone else), have you had any contact with NPs working in ID in any capacity?

Thanks to all who post on this thread. There doesn't seem to be any clear path to the ID world, especially in terms of healthcare. I've found that even university advisors are at a loss when it comes to creating a blue print for this.

I know this is an old thread, but I'm wondering what career path you chose. I'm a FNP looking to get my masters in global health. I would love to work for a NGO on health projects abroad, but it's hard to break into this field. That's part of the reason why I'm considering a second masters in global health, so I can get my foot in the door. Any recommendations?

I hate to say it but it's nice to know I am not the only one stuggling with international Nursing. I have a Master's Degree in Sports Medicine, decided to leave that and joined the Peace Corp at age 37. Will admit, learning a language is fantastic but not at 37 and not when your aptitude to learn a language is nil! So I am PC Quitter! Has not been beneficial to me except to get me to Africa. I became a nurse after that, spent 18months training in US before I headed back to Africa, Niger to be specific. Since then I have worked in Ethiopia, Liberia and the Middle east as a nurse. I also got my Paramedics licenses trying to "improve my resume." I have been told that I haven't worked full time during an interview and had to correct them and say Yes I have worked full time but it was a short term contract. Most employers only see the dates and don't see the area where I specify Locum or short term contract. Being a nurse is not enough but my experience is not just as a nurse and that is where I get frustrated. The work we do is important but they want us to do it volunteerly and I can't afford to do that!!! So I feel you pain but 1 thing I will not do is spend another $60,000 and 2-3 years on another degree!

K. Barnum MS, ATC, RN, EMT-P