Sue Averill’s nursing schedule looks very different from many of her colleagues. For six months out of every year, Averill works as an ER nurse in Seattle, Wash., and during the winter, she travels on medical missions where she puts her nursing skills to good use. This includes triaging and screening patients, and assisting with procedures and patient education.
Averill’s experiences have changed her life in many ways. She’s learned new skills, explored different cultures, gained a renewed energy for her profession and met medical colleagues from around the world. Her enthusiasm for medical missions was so contagious that she found herself getting calls from other nurses who wanted to volunteer, but weren’t sure where to start.
A resource for nurses
In 2007, Averill and several of her colleagues founded One Nurse at a Time, a nonprofit that maintains the first online database of more than 500 medical missions (both long-term and short-term, religious and nonsecular, and both international and domestic). The nonprofit also offers scholarship funds to help offset trip costs, and online education modules covering conditions such as cholera and malaria — disease entities rarely seen in the United States, yet commonly diagnosed on medical missions.
New experiences to add to your resume
“Serving on a medical mission offers nurses a life-changing and career-changing experience,” Averill says. “You’re working in an environment where you have to problem solve and think quickly on your feet.”
Averill says medical missions often give nurses the ability to work outside of their scope of practice and learn to work effectively in different, often primitive, conditions. Some missions are surgical, while others emphasize health screenings and promote preventative health education and disease management.
“Serving on a medical mission will make you a more well-rounded nurse,” Averill says. “You care for many patients who have never received formal medical care and may have walked for days to receive treatment. They are all so grateful for the services provided to them.”
Averill’s organization is currently in the process of putting together their first medical mission for nurses who have never before served on an international mission.
“We want to offer missions for nurses where they can receive coaching from more experienced mentors,” Averill says. “We want their first experience to be comfortable and positive, so that when they return they will encourage their peers to volunteer.”
Averill says that her organization works hard to remove any barriers that might hinder a nurse’s participation on a medical mission.
“We get calls from nurses who may have one week and a limited travel budget and we do our best to help them get out into the world and serve, whether that means traveling to a foreign country on a 10-day mission or doing disaster nursing for several days after an event such as Hurricane Sandy,” Averill says.
Once nurses serve on a medical mission, Averill says they are typically hooked.
“I think we often forget how much teaching we do in our daily nursing jobs and how much we truly have to share with others,” she says. “On a medical mission, you are able to share your talents and skills with patients in need as well as with colleagues from all over the world. You not only change the lives of many patients and their families; you will be changed as well.”