Nurses are known for the great degree to which they help the individuals and communities around them, and international volunteering is just one of many ways nurses give back to the world at the large.
With 20 years of academic and clinical nursing experience, Dr. Harrieth K. Gabone-Mwalupindi’s contributions have been felt both here in the US and abroad. In the US, she has made an impact on not only her patients but also the students in her women’s health, neonates and pediatric courses at South University - West Palm Beach. Outside of the US, Gabone-Mwalupindi (PhD, MSN, RNC-OB) has traveled globally and volunteered twice on personal missions, once in 2017 and once in 2018, at Dodoma Christian Medical Center Trust (DCMCT) in Tanzania, the country in which she was born. On those trips, she served in an advisory and consultative capacity.
“I volunteer because I see the need to address the knowledge gap and skills deficit in basic nursing clinical practices,” she says. “There is a discrepancy in global nursing training and clinical application due to a lack of resources and the use of evidence based practice. I see it as a privilege to share what I know and an opportunity to learn from the challenges that engulf the global nursing clinical practices.”
Making the Decision to Do Volunteer Nursing Abroad
Gabone-Mwalupindi acknowledges that leaving the country and a familiar practice setting can be nerve-wracking. Fear of the unknown is normal. Yet, a nurse who pushes past those fear can provide incredibly valuable services.
“Think of volunteering as a chance to provide what you know in an environment that is different from what you trained for. The ability to transfer that expert knowledge and specialized clinical skill will be more than rewarding,” says Gabone-Mwalupindi. “It will be a chance to affect another individual from a vulnerable population who otherwise would have not gotten that special nursing care.”
Those who volunteer internationally will need to be dependable, empathetic and adaptable. It’s essential to understand that volunteering is not about having an adventure or changing anyone’s beliefs or thinking; it is a chance to provide care to people who need it and to do good in the world. Volunteers likely will work long shifts and may be in situations that - though ultimately rewarding - can be both physically and emotionally demanding in the moment.
For example, in 2019, Gabone-Mwalupindi led a pilot medical mission with a group of five volunteers who provided health education services at DCMCT in Tanzania. For eight days straight, the volunteers worked 12-hour shifts, educating and training medical staff on resuscitation of newborns, postpartum hemorrhage management, CPR, ECG and more. Through community outreach, they also interacted with over 900 elementary students, educating them on effective hand washing techniques to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and dental hygiene to prevent dental diseases.
Processes that are simple in America also can become more complicated abroad. “You keep the knowledge, but you lose almost all the resources, technology and staff,” says Gabone-Mwalupindi. “Even with training, you can’t use the American methods, because they won’t work. You have to understand the culture you’re working in.”
Additionally, volunteers must take special care to act ethically within the context of other cultures. In their Ethical Considerations for Local and Global Volunteerism statement, the American Nurses Association (ANA) promotes social responsibility and cultural humility by sharing guidelines for volunteers and trip planners while examining both the potential benefits and harms for volunteers and host communities.
The ANA emphasizes that nurses should respect the dignity, worth and unique attributes of patients while volunteering. This includes being sensitive to cultural values and practices as well as respecting others’ decision-making methods, even those based on “different beliefs and understandings of health, autonomy, privacy and confidentiality, and relationships.” While it’s natural to want to document these life-changing volunteering experiences, the ANA reiterates that nurses must protect their patients’ rights to privacy and confidentiality, exactly as they would in their home country.
Expanding Your Reach as a Nurse
“As nurses, we provide nursing care to the most vulnerable individuals who depend on our holistic care to gain their strength and return back home and continue with their daily living,” says Gabone-Mwalupindi. “Volunteering internationally provides an opportunity to care for at-risk vulnerable individuals, some of whom may have never seen a healthcare provider or met an expert who cared enough to listen and provide care regardless of their economic status.”
Looking ahead, Gabone-Mwalupindi plans to continue leading volunteering trips, with the goal of empowering other nurses to educate, facilitate, advocate and provide care to patients who, in turn, go home with information to improve their individual and family healthcare practices and behaviors. She says, “I look forward to offering knowledge and expertise to all corners of Tanzania, having started in Dodoma, next onto Dar-es Salaam, and then the world.”