Aloha! I’m Ali, a pediatric nurse at Shriners Children’s Hospital in Honolulu, Hawai’i. I hope my journey into international travel nursing resonates and speaks to your heart.
International Travel Nursing: A Work of Heart
Like most, I wasn’t sure what to go into after I graduated from high school. One day, I was listening to NPR. An interview came on of Eric Reeves, a professor, author, and journalist who devoted his life to raising awareness and ending the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. The interview, A Man of Letters Inserts Himself Into Sudan Debate, was powerful- it opened my eyes for the first time to the world outside the Midwestern town where I was born and raised. At that moment, I decided I wanted to be of use overseas in whatever way was most fitting for who I was. The most reasonable way I saw doing that was to become a nurse. To help in areas where surgeries and medical care would not be accessible to offer care free of charge is life changing and in many cases life saving.
No Greater Love, by Mother Teresa, was also an influential part in my decision to become a nurse as most of her work is focused on helping the poor.
“Give of your hands to serve and your hearts to love.”
- Mother Teresa
Fast forward. I graduated from Southern Illinois University in 2011 with a Bachelor's in Nursing and a minor in psychology. Twelve years later I have since completed 12 medical trips to countries all across the world. After several trips, I reached out to Eric Reeves and told him how he had inspired me. To my elation Eric responded with excitement that his efforts had inspired such work. We never know how our passion inspires and impacts one another.
Getting the Right Experience is Key
To prepare myself with the right experience for international nursing, I got a job at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis in the operating room. This was key.
My specialty of perioperative nursing over the years has involved preoperative, intraoperative, and postoperative services. The opportunity to learn surgical skills needed to help overseas was essential to serving in a practical way that offers critical care to underserved countries.
Step by Step
Once you become a nurse or medical professional and want to work overseas, many people ask me what is the next step?
I wasn’t sure the answer myself, but I knew this was my dream. I started talking about it, asking people, and finally someone connected me with a neurosurgeon who went to Haiti to perform endoscopic third ventriculostomies (ETVs) and ventriculoperitoneal shunts for hydrocephalus and myelomeningoceles. I ended up assisting on 4 trips with his team from St. Louis Children’s Hospital. It was on this trip that I met my lifelong surgical mission sister Erica Hedge. We have since done 6 trips together from El Salvador to Haiti. Not only will you have life changing experiences but you will also make lifelong friends.
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Speak to people about your passion, have conversations that embolden your dreams. Finding an organization in your area is a great way to start. Aloha Medical Mission in Hawai’i is one I have heard great things about in the local area where I reside. Hospitals will oftentimes give scholarships for overseas travel nursing work. I will detail in another blog how to prepare for a mission trip.
I have worked with Healing the Children Rocky Mountain, Mending Faces, IMAF, Project Restore, and Water Hands Hope to Papua New Guinea to name a few wonderful organizations to check out. My purpose has been found in helping people in areas where they could not otherwise get care. There is no feeling in the world like this work and it is well worth the research to learn how to tailor a nursing career to work overseas. The main thing to remember is if you can dream it you can achieve it. Do not let anyone discourage you from the passion that is within your heart.
Trip Lengths & Timing
Working overseas can be a long or short endeavor depending on what type of nursing or medicine you do. Operations can change peoples lives forever and can be executed in a short amount of time. Usually, surgical trips are between one week and one a month in length.
Visas Funds and Flights
Planning ahead is essential, from applying for visas to ordering currency ahead of time. Reading up on current events in the country is also a necessity. Vaccines are also expected in certain areas. While each organization varies, they usually help with preparation logistics, flight coordination, cover the cost of flight, and provide housing. Bodyguards and safety are also coordinated by the organization.
Raising money is important. Be creative and enjoy the journey of getting others involved, chances are they will enjoy seeing your travels and the impact their donation is making! To raise funds I have a small art business, selling my paintings on clothing as wearable art to support my trips. Here is my art story!
All areas of nursing and medicine are needed. Medical backgrounds aren’t even a necessity! Oftentimes trips need coordinators, photographers, media managers and people to help with logistics and other creative areas you can think someone may be of use. The only thing required for this work is a generous heart, a desire to give and hands to serve.
“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”
- Audrey Hepburn
Happy travels and I’d love to hear any stories of trips you’ve been on or overseas dreams you’d like to achieve, perhaps I can help connect you to opportunities!