Missionary nurses follow their faith and beliefs to treat sick and injured people of various cultures, frequently working in third-world countries and regions ravaged by natural and man-made disasters. They work to help patients who struggle to meet the necessities of life, including food, clean drinking water and appropriate shelter.
Missionary nurses aim to teach people about hygiene and healthy life skills. In some cases, missionary nurses work in connection with specific religions or religious organizations. In other cases, they work with humanitarian or nonprofit organizations, such as Nursing Beyond Borders or the World Health Organization (WHO). In either case, medical missionaries dedicate themselves to treating underserved populations, improving global health and advancing human rights.
Many missionary nurses work in developing areas that include Haiti, South America and Africa. They also work in the U.S., helping victims of hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires, among other events.
The missionary organization Nurses Beyond Borders said the 3 million registered nurses (RNs) in the United States are positioned to make a difference in worldwide health outcomes. The organization organizes and arranges mission trips to developing countries.
“Many nurses will tell you they chose nursing to help people,” the organization said. “This mentality is demonstrated time and again from hospice nurses comforting the dying cancer patient to the public-health nurses campaigning against malaria in Africa. Through education and prevention, we hope to improve the longevity of everyone in these developing countries.”
Starting a career in medical missionary work begins with education. RNs who hope to make a difference are encouraged to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing, including an RN to BSN online, to learn skills that can prove helpful for overseas practice.
Why Become a Missionary Nurse?
Healthcare experts say some of the most appealing parts of missionary nursing include the chance to practice in an independent, patient-facing environment that can provide varied work experiences. In missionary work, nurses may be expected to provide the following services:
- Education – Nurses teach patients about proper healthcare, hygiene and disease prevention and management, in addition to dental care.
- Guidance – Nurse missionaries provide spiritual care to patients and members of the community.
- Treatment – Healthcare missionaries often provide basic medical care (vaccines and physicals), acute care (injury treatment) and chronic care (long-term illness care).
- Maintenance – Upon returning home, missionary nurses continue their work by fundraising for the community.
Each missionary organization has different reasons for its work and accomplishes it in different ways. For example, the goal for Nursing Beyond Borders is to improve the health of children living in developing nations. The organization partners with orphanages, schools, shelters and clinics to focus on education and disease prevention.
At the same time, the nondenominational evangelistic Christian organization Samaritan’s Purse works in mission hospitals in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and the South Pacific. The organization also staffs a biomedical department and warehouse for equipment and supplies for the medical mission facilities.
How to Become a Missionary Nurse
RNs who are fully licensed in the United States must follow licensure procedures and regulations in the host countries, including receiving the appropriate work or travel visas. In some cases, missionary nurses take part in religious training to complement their medical skills. Missionary nurses are encouraged to learn the host country’s language to make communication easier and hold Basic Life Support (BLS) certification from the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association.
Some organizations have specific requirements that may include length of relevant work experience or the ability to commit to projects up to a year long. Many groups also prefer nurses with emergency room, pediatrics, infectious disease, operating room, public health or nutrition expertise. Nursing Beyond Borders, which sends volunteers on a variety of projects, accepts both new and experienced nurses. No previous mission experience is required, though familiarity with pediatrics is preferred. Nurses are also expected to participate in education sessions about basic hygiene such as teeth brushing and hand washing.
A preferred baseline for working as a missionary nurse is earning an RN to BSN degree, in accordance with recommendations from various healthcare and nursing authorities.
Since the 1960s, healthcare experts and advocacy organizations — including the American Nurses Association (ANA), the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — have been calling for nurses to earn at least a BSN degree. Experts say the degree provides a well-rounded education and better prepares nurses to treat complex medical conditions.
Duquesne University recognizes that the healthcare environment is changing worldwide, and BSN-educated nurses are positioned to tackle the health needs of underserved populations. The university is grounded in service and missionary work. In 1878, the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, a group of Catholic missionaries, founded the university as a means to provide education for children of poor immigrants.
About Duquesne University’s online Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN) program
Duquesne University’s RN to BSN online program is designed for students who want to learn the latest nursing practice skills and advance their nursing competencies. Graduates are prepared to take on roles as missionary nurses, working overseas with underserved populations.
Students also have the opportunity to take master’s-level coursework in preparation for an MSN degree. For more information, visit Duquesne University’s online RN-BSN program website.
Why we stand out: Nursing Beyond Borders
Missionary Nurse: Johnson & Johnson
Registered Nurses as Professionals: Accountability for Education and Practice: OJIN
U.S. Province History: The Congregation of the Holy Spirit Province of the United States