The Importance of Community Engagement, Volunteering, and Why Nurses Should Get Involved
Nurses can offer so much to communities. People trust us, and we bring a health lens to everything we do. We know that people need safe places to exercise and play, a comfortable place to call home, clean air to breathe and water to drink, grocery stores with healthful food in our neighborhoods, and human connectedness. When we join boards or volunteer with organizations, we make our communities healthier.
During the pandemic, nurses volunteered at vaccine clinics and distributed food to people in need. Nurses served as a voice of reason when community members did not know who to turn to for health advice. Nurses are the backbone of disaster-relief efforts, and we teach our neighbors how to get and stay healthy.
A sense of empowerment and fulfillment.
My experiences serving as a disaster nurse with the Red Cross have been among the most rewarding of my career. I served on the ground after tornadoes struck the South (Dispatches from the Alabama Tornado Zone) and the Midwest and in the days following Hurricane Andrew, September 11th, the 2004 Florida hurricanes and Hurricane Katrina, and the Indonesia tsunami.
Through my volunteer work, I met people in my community and developed leadership skills. I learned how to speak in front of groups, as well as governance and advocacy skills. Volunteering made me more compassionate. It’s good for families, and it strengthens marriages. My husband and children came with me on Santa runs to deliver toys to those affected by home fires throughout the year when we lived in New Jersey. We visited individuals at the local nursing home who had no family and brought them to our home for holidays.
Seeking and finding how to serve.
The great humanitarian Albert Schweitzer said:
“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”
The Red Cross is struggling once again to meet the demands of our nation’s disasters, especially as COVID has significantly decreased our volunteer ranks. Please consider volunteering with them if you are able.
Self-care comes first.
I realize that many nurses are bruised and battered from the pandemic and are experiencing moral injury. Many of you are caring for children and elders when you aren’t working and can’t take on anything else. A recent study from Health Affairs found that the total supply of registered nurses decreased by more than 100,000 in 2021—an unprecedented drop. Nurses left the workforce due to early retirements, pandemic burnout and frustration, interrupted work patterns from family needs such as childcare and elder care, COVID-19 infection and related staffing shortages, and other disruptions throughout health care delivery organizations.
For those of you who are struggling, take the time for self-care, and do not overcommit. There will be time for volunteering once you are in a better place. It’s okay to dial back and to take care of yourself. We need you to be healthy to effectively care for others.
As we celebrate Nurses Month, I am filled with gratitude for you and your service and I have never been more proud to serve as a nurse.
Susan Hassmiller, PhD, RN, FAAN, has devoted her career to strengthening the nursing profession, improving population health, and advancing health equity. During her 25 years at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), she served as the senior adviser for nursing and the senior scholar-in-residence/senior adviser to the president at the National Academy of Medicine. She also established and served as the director of the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, a nationwide initiative led by AARP, the AARP Foundation, and RWJF, to transform health and nursing. She has served on the Board of Governors of the American Red Cross, is an elected member of NAM, and is a fellow in the American Academy of Nursing, where she holds the Living Legend status.
She is a Hudson/ICF certified executive/leadership coach and founder and principal of Sulu Coaching and Consulting (www.sulucoaching.com) with a practice focused on health care leaders.