A nurse helps with a puzzle at the facility where she volunteers.

Community Service for Nurses: Ideas, Resources, and Benefits


As frontline medical workers, nurses are typically the first point of contact with patients who enter a hospital or health care facility. This means that nurses end up working with a highly diverse range of patients who are experiencing myriad health care issues. They must be ready for anything. Fortunately, their advanced education and extensive experience make them capable of delivering health care services to anyone who needs them.

Registered nurses aren’t alone in helping people who are experiencing personal hardship or other challenges. Several health-related community service programs provide assistance to underserved communities and to those who either can’t afford or don’t have access to health care. In fact, some of these organizations send American health care workers to countries with limited medical resources.

When comparing nursing with community service, what’s clear is that helping people in need is the common denominator. Community service for nurses can take many forms and doesn’t necessarily need to involve providing medical care. Like other volunteers with no medical background, nurses can choose to help with disaster relief or by donating their time at a homeless shelter, for example. However, worth noting is that many community service and public health organizations consider the education and experience of a nurse a valued asset..

Nurses make a huge difference in the hospitals and health care facilities where they work, and they’re in the unique position to do so much more as volunteers.

The Benefits of Community Service

New volunteers will notice that community service provides a different sense of accomplishment and gratification from that of a standard day’s work. Going to work is something most people have to do; community service is something people do out of the kindness of their hearts. Keeping that in mind, volunteers can look forward to numerous benefits of community service once they get involved.

Improving the Lives of Those Less Fortunate

Perhaps the biggest benefit of community service is being able to help people in need who are dealing with difficult circumstances. In some cases, volunteers are literally the difference between life and death. Depending on the organization, community service for nurses may involve delivering care to those who don’t have access to it.

However, community service doesn’t have to center on health care. There are many ways to get involved and improve the lives of others. For example, a person may volunteer in a canned food drive; this directly addresses community health challenges, such as food insecurity. Community cleanups can also benefit public health by reducing the amount of waste and potentially dangerous items found in public spaces.  

Make New Friends and Connections

Engaging in community service means working closely alongside others in the health care field, representatives from volunteer organizations, and individuals who are donating their time to a worthy cause. Another big benefit of community service is being able to meet a wide assortment of people who believe in working together for positive change.

Nurses who spend the majority of their professional lives in a single health care facility will find that this is the perfect opportunity to get acquainted with individuals outside their health care bubble. This can lead to valuable professional connections and even lifelong friends. 

Gain New Skills and Knowledge

Nurses who volunteer get the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in a different scenario from what they’re used to, surrounded by people from different walks of life. It can be a teachable moment.

Community service for nurses typically requires them to use a different skill set from those they rely on at work. Additionally, volunteering enables nurses to expand their worldview by being exposed to different communities and cultures. For example, nurses who volunteer in developing countries may face health care challenges they’ve never encountered in the United States.

Nurses delivering patient care in developing countries may find themselves solving issues such as lack of water, medical equipment, and medicine and working in situations that don’t meet the health care standards that they’re used to. They may also find themselves treating conditions that are less common in America than elsewhere—reflecting the health care disparity in countries.

Practice Health Care in a New, Dynamic Environment

As volunteers, nurses have the option to take part in medically oriented missions that take them to parts of the world where they’re needed most. Doctors Without Borders is an organization that arranges these humanitarian efforts. After the nurses have assembled a team of volunteers, they travel to another country that needs assistance.

Countries that are experiencing outbreaks of disease, famine, or the aftermath of war or natural disaster are frequent destinations for Doctors Without Borders. For nurses who want to lend their skills to another part of the world and another culture, going on a medical mission is the perfect way to do that. It’s also an opportunity to identify the gaps and discrepancies in the area’s current health care practices so that solutions can be devised—perhaps by imparting medical knowledge or by providing medical resources not locally available.

Develop a New Sense of Purpose and Passion

The career of a nurse places the health and safety of patients above all else. It’s one of the most altruistic occupations a person can take on, and it comes with its own set of challenges. 

Nurses who’ve been in the health care field for a long time may find that they don’t have the same spark as they did at the beginning of their careers. Additionally, nurses who are overworked or burned out may feel that their passion for their career has diminished.

One of the benefits of community service for nurses is that it’s a different form of helping people. Some nurses find that volunteering outside the health care facility where they work reawakens their passion and purpose. It’s not uncommon for a nurse to fall in love with the work an organization is doing and decide to join the cause as a permanent member or a regular volunteer.

Community Service Ideas for Nurses

Volunteer opportunities are available all over the world that provide assistance to a wide variety of groups. For example, some organizations focus on helping homeless people, while others dedicate themselves to assisting our nation’s veterans.

The challenge for most people is narrowing the selection of volunteer opportunities down to a single one. Below are some community service ideas for nurses to look into.

Health Screenings

Health screenings are common tests performed in hospitals and health care facilities. Screenings can identify any number of conditions or illnesses, including the following:

  • Communicable diseases
  • STDs
  • Mental health conditions
  • Diabetes
  • Osteoporosis
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Certain cancers

Health screenings are advantageous to patients and health care providers alike; the sooner a condition is known, the better the chances that it can be treated. However, in some communities, not everyone can access or afford this basic medical service.

Sometimes, public health is at risk due to a widespread infectious disease (for example, COVID-19). In such an event, making health screenings easily accessible to the public is critical. As health care professionals and volunteers, nurses are readily equipped to provide this service for underserved communities or during a public health emergency.

Disaster Relief

According to its own reports, the American Red Cross responds to more than 60,000 disasters every year. Although the majority of these disasters are home fires, the humanitarian organization also provides relief for tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and forest wildfires. Some of the services that disaster relief volunteers offer include the following:

  • Helping set up overnight shelters
  • Providing meals, snacks, and water
  • Distributing medical supplies
  • Providing health care services to the injured
  • Providing mental health services
  • Providing emergency response vehicles

Helping with disaster relief is one of the more popular community service ideas for nurses. Their training makes them uniquely equipped to perform assessments and deliver medical aid. However, they can also choose to focus on tasks that aren’t health care related.

Homeless Shelters

According to the most recent statistics from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, more than 580,000 people were homeless in America as of January 2020. For these individuals, having a shelter they can go to isn’t just a convenience—it may very well be the resource that keeps them alive.

For nurses who want to care for their community, volunteering at a homeless shelter is a way of getting back to basics. Volunteers provide food, warmth, shelter, and a safe place to sleep to people facing one of life’s greatest challenges.

Veterans Hospitals

America is one of the safest nations in the world due to the hard work and sacrifice of our veterans. Unfortunately, physical and mental health issues have long plagued this group. According to the book Veteran and Military Mental Health Issues, approximately 15% of service members who were deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq have depression and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Veterans also have one of the highest suicide rates, at more than 6,000 suicides every year, which means that veterans are 1.5 times more likely to commit suicide than nonveterans.

Fortunately, nurses can get involved in numerous ways. A quick online search should return U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals in the vicinity where nurses can lend their medical expertise and their positivity.

Overseas Volunteering

For nurses who want to enact change internationally, several organizations specialize in providing health care and resources to underserved and developing countries. Project HOPE, for example, works closely with public health partners and medical volunteer teams to provide health care services overseas. Other organizations focus on helping build infrastructure and providing basic resources like food and clean water.

Also worth noting is that various financial aid opportunities are available for those volunteering abroad. This helps nursing students and health care workers offset the major expenses of the trip, such as airfare and travel insurance.

Senior Care Facilities and Nursing Homes

Helping out at a senior care facility or nursing home is one of the more practical community service ideas a nurse can pursue. Many locations are available throughout the country, so local volunteer opportunities should be easy to find. Additionally, these settings are relatively low stress compared with other options.

Although volunteer nurses are more than welcome to help with patient care, some opt to spend time engaging in conversation, listening to music, and playing games with the residents. Doing these types of activities helps older people maintain their mental acuity and keep their minds active.

Volunteer With Children

Many children grow up without a stable home. According to KVC Kansas, more than 400,000 children nationally are in foster care. One of the benefits of community service for nurses is that they can change the lives of children for the better simply by spending time with them.

Many nonprofits and other organizations are devoted to making the lives of foster children a little brighter. Volunteers can donate their time by helping decorate birthday boxes, building bicycles, and assisting with fundraisers.

For nurses who want to focus on one child specifically, the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America program is a great way to serve as a mentor and positive adult influence to a child in need. Bigs and Littles (adult volunteers and the children and young adults they’re matched with) hang out a few times a month doing typical activities such as watching movies, playing sports, and going out to eat.

Volunteer With Animals

With so many humans in need all over the globe, it can be easy to forget that animals need our help, too. Organizations such as the Animal Humane Society have plenty of volunteer opportunities. Nurses with a few hours a week to spare can take part in the community outreach efforts or volunteer their time at the animal shelter.

According to the Animal Humane Society, more than 2,000 animals come in each year needing foster care before being adopted. Fostering an animal is a great way to bridge the gap until it finds a full-time owner. 

Community Service Resources for Nurses

Numerous volunteer opportunities are available for nurses who are looking to improve the lives of those around them. Nurses can devote their time to a local community organization or health care center. They can also venture overseas to lend their skills and health care knowledge to a developing country. Given the sheer number of possibilities that are out there, finding the right opportunity takes a fair amount of research.

To help speed that process along, nurses are encouraged to reference the following community service resources. Each listing contains volunteer opportunities and ways to get involved.

  • Together We Rise: A national nonprofit organization that’s dedicated to improving the lives of children in the foster care system.
  • American Red Cross: With more than a century of service, the American Red Cross is one of the most recognized organizations for their work with military families, blood drives, international work, and disaster relief.
  • Peace Corps: Originally founded in the 1960s, the Peace Corps is another highly recognized organization for its international volunteer work. The organization focuses on improving the health, education, economic development, and environment of underserved communities.
  • American Association of Critical-Care Nurse: AACN is a nonprofit organization that supports specialist nurses in providing the best care possible. Volunteer opportunities for nurses include serving on committees, being part of advisory teams, and serving as ambassadors to organizations.
  • MedicalMissions.org: A 501(c)(3) organization that takes on medical missions all over the world, using the skills and efforts of health care and non-health care volunteers. Both domestic and international volunteer opportunities are available.
  • Global Outreach Doctors: Launched in 2015, Global Outreach Doctors provides humanitarian relief and deploys doctors and nurses to underserved communities to establish a sustainable health care model. The organization hase volunteer opportunities for registered nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, medical doctors, and many more.
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters of America: Since 1904, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America has been improving the lives of children throughout the nation by responsibly pairing them with adult volunteers.
  • Doctors Without Borders: Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is a global humanitarian effort to provide vital health care services and relief to underserved communities. Volunteers in the U.S. can do so at its New York office or remotely.
  • American Heart Association: Founded in 1924, the American Heart Association is one of the leading organizations in the fight against heart disease. Volunteers can get involved by supporting patients with heart conditions, participating in research, assisting with fundraising efforts, and more.

Become a Force of Good for the Community

Nurses looking for community service opportunities won’t have to look far. Many organizations—local, national, and international—need generous individuals who are willing to lend their time and skills. Nurse volunteerism is especially important for those living in underserved communities or developing countries. One of the main benefits of community service for nurses is knowing that they’re improving the lives of those around them.

For those who are considering entering the health care field, the best place to start is by investing in education, such as Norwich University’s Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program. It features three different concentrations that lay the groundwork for a successful career in health care. With the specialized skills and knowledge that advanced education can provide, nurses are able to make an extraordinary impact as community volunteers, as well as health care professionals.


Recommended Readings

Emergency Nurse Practitioner: 5 Essential Responsibilities

Nurse Practitioner Scholarships: A Guide for MSN Students

Nursing Apps and Technology to Optimize Patient Care



Nurses Month 2022 - Week Four: Nursing - Community Engagement Benefits Everyone, CGFNS International

Nurses, Volunteerism and Public Service, Nurses USA

UN Analysis Shows Link Between Lack of Vaccine Equity and Widening Poverty Gap, United Nations

Nurse Burnout, Well-Being Index

Get Screened, Health.gov

Community Health Worker Resources, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Disaster Relief, American Red Cross

Nursing and Health, American Red Cross

State of Homelessness: 2021 Edition, National Alliance to End Homelessness

Volunteer Nursing Abroad, EveryNurse

Volunteer Opportunities, Emergency Nurses Association

Volunteer, Project HOPE

How Many Children Are in Foster Care in Kansas?, KVC Kansas

Volunteer Opportunities, World Vets

Volunteer at AHS, Animal Humane Society

About Us, Together We Rise

Become a Volunteer, American Red Cross

What Volunteers Do, Peace Corps

Volunteer Opportunities, American Association of Critical-Care Nurses

About MedicalMissions.org, MedicalMissions.org

Volunteer, Global Outreach Doctors

Become a Big, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America

Volunteer with MSF, Doctors Without Borders

About ASPR, Administration for Strategic Preparedness & Response

Volunteer Opportunities, American Heart Association

Search, ANA Enterprise

Registered Nurses, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Learn More Today

Complete the form on the next page to request more information about our online programs.

Request Info