How volunteering can build your nursing resumé
Whether you’re a nursing student or have worked in the profession for decades, volunteer services can be a career boost.
“Some people think that just because you’re not getting paid, it doesn’t count as work experience,” says Angie Strawn, associate dean of the University of Phoenix Division of Nursing. “We are nurses 24/7 — and not just in terms of nursing skills, but also our values. Volunteering is part of that.”
Here, our experts explain how serving your community can pay off:
You can treat it like a job.
“I always tell nursing students who are putting together their first professional resumés to include all of their work experience, and that includes volunteering,” says Liz Dietz, EdD, a nurse practitioner and nursing program instructor at the University of Phoenix Bay Area Campus.
Dietz has worked as an American Red Cross disaster relief volunteer for more than 30 years, and also lends her time to nonprofit nursing associations and local public health groups. She recommends nurses of all levels volunteer wherever they can.
“Describe volunteer work on your resumé like you would any job, and list the organizations you served like employers,” she notes.
Darlene Bradley, PhD, nursing instructor at the University of Phoenix Southern California Campus, agrees. “As a nurse administrator, I look for volunteerism on the resumé,” she says. She recommends getting involved in professional associations, teaching first aid and CPR in the community, and conducting free health screenings at local events.
You’ll gain experience.
Whether your goal is to travel abroad or learn a new nursing specialty, volunteer programs can expand your horizons, according to Bradley.
“As a student nurse, I volunteered at a [domestic violence] shelter,” she notes. “That led to my interest in emergency care,” as well as her role as a forensic nurse for sexual assault victims. Meanwhile, her work as a volunteer CPR teacher led her to become an advanced life support nurse instructor, both in U.S. hospitals and abroad in Cambodia, China, Russia, Spain, Italy, France and other nations.
It lets you explore other disciplines.
If your goal is to make the jump into management, volunteering in non-nursing capacities can help develop the administrative skills you need, according to Dietz.
“Working on a political or fundraising campaign can teach you a lot about Microsoft® Office, data management, conference calls and written communication,” she says. “Read your local newspaper to find out what organizations are looking for help. Then offer your services.”
Strawn believes her non-nursing volunteer work was essential to her career success. “I was an RA [resident assistant] in my college dorm, and also did statistics and coaching for my kids’ sports teams,” she explains. “Volunteering helped give me the confidence I needed to step into leadership roles later on.”
You’ll continue to learn new things.
Community service is an integral part of the nursing profession, according to Bradley, and something nurses should do throughout the entire span of their careers.
“As volunteers, nurses have the opportunity to [help others] while learning more about their specialties,” she says. “I have been a nurse for many years. I continue to learn, and much of my learning comes from [volunteering].”
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