How Travel Nurses Can Engage with Local Communities
By Jennifer Larson, contributor
Nurses can and do contribute in countless meaningful ways to their own communities. But when you’re working away from home for travel nursing jobs, how can you get involved?
The short answer: be a nurse volunteer! That’s right, you can still volunteer when you’re on a travel nursing assignment. In fact, volunteering is a great way to get plugged into your temporary home-away-from-home.
Not only will you be helping others, but you’ll benefit from this important community engagement, too.
“The personal rewards are incalculable,” says Tony Anno, DNP, ACNPN-AG, AGACNP-BC, CCDS, CEPS, RDCS, FHRS, faculty member for Walden University’s MSN program. “The feeling of helping people in need is very special.”
Depending on what you choose to do, a volunteer gig could also be a welcome break from the additional stress that’s affecting so many healthcare professions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It can be a little bit of an escape from their day-to-day work,” said Rick Cohen, chief communications officer and chief operating officer for the National Council of Nonprofits.
Plus, you’ll get the chance to engage with others and make some new friends in your new community.
7 ways to find community engagement opportunities:
1. Check out VolunteerMatch, one of the largest databases for connecting volunteers with service projects. (As of May 2021, the site boasts more than 130,000 participating organizations and more than 85,000 current opportunities.) “You can see the opportunities that are there and get a sense as to whether one of those short-term or medium-term volunteer (jobs) would be a good fit, and you can reach out and hopefully connect,” says Cohen.
2. Peruse Idealist, another major resource for matching with volunteer opportunities, with more than 120,000 organizations represented.
3. Check out local websites. When you start making plans for your next travel assignment, do some research on local organizations that coordinate or place volunteers. Some communities even have regular service days and welcome anyone to participate.
4. Call a nonprofit organization directly. Yes, it may be that simple; just pick up the phone and ask to speak to the volunteer coordinator. Some organizations don’t advertise service opportunities, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have them. Many nonprofit organizations would welcome a nurse volunteer for a few months. “It never hurts to reach out and tell them your situation,” says Cohen.
5. Ask your colleagues at work. Other nurses and staff at your travel nursing assignment may have ideas that they could share with you. Their insider information could help you discover places and initiatives that you would never have discovered on your own.
6. Check out other volunteer websites. JustServe.org, Catchafire.org, GivePulse.com, Volunteer.gov, Engage and other websites offer opportunities for you to browse service opportunities that may appeal to you. Just plug in your location and a keyword or two and see what pops up. Some organizations like the Taproot Foundation also allow you to register for skilled volunteer opportunities, in case you want to put your nursing skills to work in a volunteer capacity.
7. Volunteer for a chapter of a familiar organization. If you already volunteer for the YWCA or the Ronald McDonald House back home, find out if your new community has a chapter that could use your help while you’re on assignment there, suggested Cohen.
More considerations for travel nurses who want to volunteer
Don’t feel like you have to use your professional nursing skills every time you serve as a short-term volunteer. Nurse volunteers are certainly useful for many organizations, but so are “regular volunteers” who are available to pitch in and help out in other ways.
Consider the season, too.
“Local food banks and soup kitchens are always looking for volunteers, especially outside the holiday season,” said Anno. “During the summer months, many organizations need assistance with youth sports leagues. You could coach or be a trainer, umpire or referee, just to name a few. Local community centers are a great place to look for these opportunities.”
So if you wonder if a particular organization can use you as a volunteer in some capacity, just ask. “It never hurts to ask,” said Cohen.
Community engagement is one of the key themes for National Nurses Month in May 2021, and a practice that can pay dividends throughout the year for nurse travelers.
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