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Statements of Excellence for Admission to BSN Programs

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It is estimated that by the year 2020, there will be at least 400,000 fewer nurses available to provide care than is needed. The total demand for services will rise by the year 2025, when 68.3% of the current nursing workforce will be among the first of 78 million baby boomers reaching retirement age and enrolling in the Medicare program. The elderly population (65 years and older) at that time is expected to rise to 17% of the US population. The implications of these statistics are staggering if workforce issues aren't addressed with an ardent resolve to tackle the multitude of concerns that are causing the current nursing shortage. Current trends show that the nursing workforce is already transitioning to non-patient care and other less physically demanding roles. Dr Peter Buerhaus and colleagues also note that more experienced RNs may have higher expectations of working conditions and require greater autonomy and respect than has been typically accorded.

The Humanitarian Side of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing

There are two types of overseas volunteer work: humanitarian aid, which responds to crisis situations, and the longer-term development work many nurses choose to partake in. The reality is less defined, and the two can become blurred, and it doesn´t matter which one interests you most.

Responding to disasters may be for the thrill-seeking nurses of our time. According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, there are 220 natural disasters, 70 technological disasters and three new armed conflicts every year, on average. Naturally, it´s harder to plan your work around these occurrences, but they usually involved relatively short timescales.

Many longer-term projects are a lot easier going, and focus on bigger problems like the almost 30,000 children under five who die every day from preventable diseases like diarrhea-related dehydration, malaria and measles (UNICEF, 2006). These kinds of projects often involved training, sharing skills and teaching processes.

Sue Averill, RN, BSN, MBA, CEN, is the president of One Nurse At A Time, an organization that reaches out to nurses and helps them get involved in the humanitarian and volunteer arena.

Averill is a 32-year veteran of Emergency Room nursing. She worked in the business world as a manager for a cruise line during her career, too, and created the medical department for ships, designed ship hospitals, hired staff, and wrote protocols. For the past 13 years, she been a humanitarian nurse, working all over the globe.

Averill started in the ER as a senior for her student practicum in 1979.  “Those were the days before certification, before ACLS or PALS – when the only ‘specialty’ areas of nursing were cardiac, surgery and pediatrics. I thought doing a semester in the ER would give me a well-rounded view of all aspects of nursing…but I fell in love with ER and stayed.”

Averill works for Doctors Without Borders and other nonprofit organizations as nurse, Medical Coordinator (program in charge), or Project Coordinator. She´s been a humanitarian since 1999, when she’s worked in subSaharan Africa for the most part. But she also went to Asia and Latin America and has done about 25 missions so far. She´s loved going on most of them.

Surgical and teaching missions are typically 1-2 weeks, and disaster response missions last around month or more. MSF/Doctors Without Borders missions are a minimum of 6 months, but it is possible to go as a “troubleshooter” for 1-4 months. When she first started in 1999, she went for 1-week trips. 

In 2004, Averill went to Liberia for 1 month and thought that was nearly impossible to be gone from home for so long and work so intensely. But later that year, she committed to a 6-month stint in Darfur with MSF and did four 6-month missions back to back!

On the surgical missions, she normally works PACU (Recovery Room). When she´s on MSF missions, she´s normally the medical coordinator – this is the highest level medical position as it’s the person in charge of all the projects in a given country. 

On surgical teams, there’s usually a scrub and circulating nurse. And one additional PACU nurse, perhaps. Most organizations try to use local staff to work alongside to share out knowledge and workload. In MSF, the number of nurses varies by the size of the project. There may just be one nurse per project.

The scariest thing Averill has ever seen is when she stumbled into a war zone in south Sudan and triaged and treated 100 wounded soldiers. She was in the area to help civilians that had been displaced by the resurgence of the armed conflict between northern and southern troops.

To get started, Averill recommends taking a leap of faith. She says you should know your skills are adequate to the task, steel yourself for leaving home, comfort, and everything you love, but that your mission will be a life changing experience! 

Next, find an organization that fits your beliefs and skill base. Then learn as much as you can about the country, people, society, culture, and language of where you plan to go. Research all the common diseases in the area and stay flexible, and you´ll be fine, she says.