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Volunteering as a nurse

What is your accountability?

The opportunity to spend a week outdoors sounds exciting to Thom. It also sounds a little daunting. He’s been asked to volunteer as the nurse at a program for at-risk youth.​


Thom's helped out at the youth center before, but being the only nurse at the outdoor program is different; he’s never done anything like this, and wonders if he’s ready.

What's different about volunteering as a nurse in non-traditional settings?​​

Practice settings like a recreation centre, medical tent, or summer camp may mean you're working autonomously. You may not have the resources and supports you're used to having when working in a traditional health care organization.

You still need to meet all the Standards of Practice and comply with relevant legislation, regulations, and standards of practice for your nursing designation. Remember, you need to have a practicing registration to be able to volunteer as a nurse.

What should Thom consider before deciding?

Thom reviews the role expectations and organizational policies to make sure he will be working within his scope of practice. He considers the competencies needed for the position, assesses his practice, and identifies any learning needs. He discusses questions or concerns with his potential supervisor.

What are other factors to consider when volunteering as a nurse?
  • ​Who will my clients be? Program youth, program staff, and/or other volunteers?
  • Am I familiar with policies for common conditions and/or treatment, for example heat stroke, anaphylaxis, overdose, minor/major injuries, mental health matters?
  • Do I have the specific knowledge, skills and judgment required to provide the appropriate treatment / services, and manage any outcomes?
  • Can I competently administer the medications commonly required? Do I understand the organizational policies related to their collection, storage, distribution and administration?
  • Do I know how I'll document the care I provide, review and update clients' health records?
  • Do I know how to access a physician or nurse practitioner if necessary and what support might be available from other health care professionals or service providers?
  • Am I familiar with the emergency procedures and consultation processes when client care is urg​ent or beyond available resources on site?
  • Am I aware of other organizational resources such as policies, decision support tools, other clinical supports and equipment?
  • Does the organization have policies on liability insurance? Note that the Canadian Nurse Protective Society (CNPS) provides professional liability protection for all BCCNP-registered nurses with practising registration. 

What does Thom decide?

Thom accepts the position after confirming that the role is within his scope of practice and that he will be able to meet other relevant standards of practice, such as those for medication related activities.

What additional resources will be helpful for Thom?

The Scope of Practice standards can provide direction and answer questions about scope of practice.

The following Practice Standards may be particularly relevant in these settings:

Professional liability protection when volunteering

As a BCCNM practising registrant, you receive professional liability protection through the Canadian Nurses Protective Society . This protection covers both paid and volunteer nursing. ​

Thank you to the College of Registered Nurses of Nova Scotia for their permission to repurpose content from their website for this case study.

Thinking of volunteering abroad?

Volunteer requirements vary by country and volunteer organization. Healthcare volunteers generally must be qualified in a relevant field and documentation to confirm this must be provided. Be sure to check what the specific requirements are for the volunteer organization and country before you volunteer.

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