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The Top 4 Countries for Volunteer Nursing Opportunities Abroad

Nursing can be an incredibly rewarding career, perhaps even more so when the patients you're tending to are residents of a country where they otherwise might never have received the attention and care you've volunteered your time and talents to make possible. The decision to be a medical volunteer abroad is an opportunity for you to broaden your horizons, gain first-hand experience and insight into global health perspectives, and change peoples' lives – all while you're actively changing your own. While weighing your options regarding career paths abroad, consider these four countries where the need is great and your impact will be every bit as memorable as your experience.

Volunteer Nursing Abroad in Nepal

When Mother Nature wreaks havoc, it quickly becomes overwhelmingly obvious how dire the hospital systems often are across our international community. The catastrophic 7.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated Nepal in April 2015 once again highlighted the need for qualified medical professionals in some of the world's lesser developed nations. With a death toll that quickly rose into the thousands and the number of reported injuries exponentially higher, many people began pointing to the country's startlingly understaffed national health system as one reason why the population continued to suffer.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Nepal has only 2.1 physicians and 50 hospital beds available for every 10,000 of its citizens, and the number of nurses per capita is similarly dismal. In a country where the average person makes only $730 per year, volunteer medical care is an essential part of caring for a people courageously trying to recover from one of the world's worst earthquakes. While initial trauma care and triage will have long since been addressed, Nepal will still need help with everything from obstetrics to oncology to general internal medicine and pediatrics, ensuring that there will be a demand for nurses from a wide variety of specialties for years to come.

In the aftermath of any natural disaster, the urge to immediately volunteer and provide swift aid can be overwhelming, but simply booking a ticket and arriving on your own is rarely the best way to help. Consult an established agency like the Red Cross and become a disaster volunteer; you can then be sure that your skills will be put to best use and you'll receive the guidance and protection you need, as well.

Volunteer Nursing Abroad in Kenya

The continent of Africa is home to several countries with health care systems that are considered sub-standard by most first-world standards, and the beautiful yet relatively impoverished Kenya is no exception.

There are several options for enthusiastic volunteers here, including positions in hospitals or as part of mobile outreach teams that travel to rural areas, providing healthcare to people who would otherwise go without.

Nurses with an interest in or who have experience with the treatment of global diseases will be able to tackle one of the deadliest here in Kenya. According to Avert.org, Kenya has the fourth worst HIV epidemic in the entire world, and as of 2012 there were more than 1.6 million people living with HIV, and some 57,000 died due to AIDS-related illness that year alone. The mass casualties caused by the continued outbreak have left some 1.1 million children without parents, and those orphans need care too.

There are some risks associated with travel to Kenya as their security situation continues to fluctuate following a terrorist attack in June 2014 in Mpeketoni, Lamu County. The U.S. State Department maintains a detailed account of violent crime and reported terrorist initiatives in Kenya, as well as restrictions for government personnel that can be used as a guideline for civilian volunteer travel as well.

Volunteer Nursing Abroad in Paraguay

As a result of a nearly 35-year dictatorship in Paraguay that severely limited educational options for much of the population, there is a tragic lack of trained health care professionals. This hole in the health care system not only translates into sub-standard care of the people of Paraguay, it also means that there aren't enough experienced doctors and nurses to train the next generation either.

Paraguay's economy is on the upswing and the people are both warm and welcoming, making this an ideal place to put all your training to work. Opt for a placement in a hospital, work in one of the medical missions set up to help the indigenous population, or test out your teaching skills and leave a legacy.

Paraguay's official languages are Spanish and Guarani, with a notable amount of immigrants speaking Japanese, Korean, and German as well; speaking any of those languages, Spanish in particular, would be a major advantage. The U.S. Embassy in Paraguay reports no known threats to U.S. citizens at this time, making this a safe and smart option for first-time travelers.

Volunteer Nursing Abroad in Haiti

As one of the poorest countries in the world, and a victim of a seemingly constant barrage of earthquakes and hurricanes, Haiti is one of the most desperate countries in regards to needing volunteer nurses.

With statistics that estimate less than 50% of the population having access to clean drinking water, an infant mortality rate of 79 deaths per 1,000 live births, and a mere 11 nurses and 25 physicians per 100,000 Haitians, it's sadly unsurprising that the average life expectancy is less than 50 years. Lack of education, poor hygiene, and sanitation issues also contribute to disease, and in fact, as of 2013 Haiti had some 140,000 people living with HIV.

Many of the warnings issued regarding travel to Haiti are in regards to the lack of adequate medical facilities, but there are some concerns about security as well. The U.S. Department of State encourages its citizens who are considering travel to Haiti to coordinate via an organization that has support on the ground.

Sites like The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), One World 365, and Red Cross are great resources for those looking to get started in the field of nursing abroad.