If you are thinking about a career in missionary nursing, you may have a lot of questions. Grace Tazelaar is a veteran missionary nurse who offers her wisdom from years of experience serving God cross-culturally.
1. What is missionary nursing?
The nursing profession originated as a call of God within the Christian church to care for the sick and suffering of this world. In a sense all nursing is missionary work as we are called to care for others as Jesus cared for them. God has specifically called some nurses to serve him in places away from their families of origin and work among the poor and underserved. God has asked these missionary nurses to move cross-culturally to present the gospel using their knowledge and skills as nurses.
2. How do I know if God is calling me to become a missionary?
God makes His desire for our lives known to us through reading the Bible, spending times conversing with Him in prayer, and meeting with other Christians in times of worship and fellowship. It is important to know that God has called you to be a missionary. This knowledge sustains the missionary nurse in times of difficulty and trial.
3. I feel God is calling me to missionary nursing. What do I do next?
Continue to pray, read the Bible and meet with other Christians. Talk with your pastor or church leader about becoming a missionary.
Assess your strengths and desires as a person and professionally. E.g. Are you a city person who requires culture, activities, and physical amenities or are you a person who likes the country, outdoor activities, and can get by with the bare necessities? Do you function better in a team or do you like to be independent? God created you uniquely with gifts and abilities that are needed to partner with him in his work.
Explore mission opportunities that fit in with who you are and where you feel God is leading you. Is there a specific country or area of the world that excites you? Did a missionary presentation or book stimulate an interest? Has God given you a burden for a certain group of people? Gather information about these areas and talk to people who are involved. You may even want to make a visit to the area, meet the people, or participate in a short-term project. Consider attending a healthcare missions conference for guidance and networking. See NCF Events for upcoming conferences.
4. What is the difference between long-term and short-term missions?
Missionary nurses who go on short-term mission projects usually go for a short period of time - anywhere between a few days to a year or more. They usually focus on using their professional skills in a ministry setting. Because of limited time, they may not attempt to learn the language, do an in depth study of the culture, or meet the requirements for Bible study of the mission agency.
Missionary nurses who make long-term commitments to their work usually plan to make missionary nursing a significant part of their career. They study health problems commonly found in the country where they are working, learn the local language, study the culture and customs of the people they are serving, and are prepared in Biblical studies. This enables them to present the gospel of Jesus in culturally appropriate ways, using the local language, in the context of healthcare.
5. Is there something I should be doing while I'm considering becoming a missionary nurse?
Yes. You may want to:
- Read about missions, missionaries, cross-cultural ministry, and the area of missions that God is leading you to. For an introduction, check out these recommended books.
- Prepare yourself professionally for the work you will be doing - there may be tropical diseases with which you are unfamiliar; equipment, procedures, and medications that are different; and skills that you may need to acquire, e.g. midwifery in order to be licensed in the country to which you are going.
- Enroll in a formal course to study the Bible, Theology and/or Missions. Consider enrolling in the Perspectives Course offered around the country. Many sending mission agencies require formal Bible study as part of their requirements.
- Establish cross-cultural friendships with non-Christians. Be a host family for an international student, practice nursing in a cross-cultural ministry setting in the United States, or volunteer at a free clinic.
6. What kinds of nursing do missionary nurses practice?
Missionary nurses practice all the types of nursing - hospital nursing, clinic nursing, public health/community nursing, nursing education, nursing administration, advanced practice nursing. They also focus on providing spiritual care and helping people to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
7. What preparation do I need to become a missionary nurse?
That depends on what kind of nursing you will be doing and the country to which you will be going. Nursing practice in other countries is probably regulated by licensure. You will need to learn what is necessary to practice nursing in that country and follow the regulations of your host country. Just as we do not allow nurses from other countries to come to the U.S. to practice without assessing their competence, so we should also be prepared to meet the requirements for nursing practice in our host countries. Go to the International Council of Nursing for a list of members and their addresses.
If you are going on a short-term mission project, the organization planning the project should make sure that the host country governing bodies gives approval for professional practice to the nursing participants in the project. It is your responsibility as a professional nurse to inquire about what licensure arrangements has been made with the host country and if there are any limitations on your practice in the host country.
Missionary nurses represent Jesus as they practice nursing and as His ambassador we should seek to be knowledgeable and skillful in our nursing practice. Our nursing practice needs to be the best that we can offer. We should not take on roles and responsibilities for which we have not been prepared. Remember that the people we serve are image bearers of God and deserve our best. A good rule of thumb is that if you are not prepared to undertake a procedure in your home country, you should not attempt it in a mission setting.
The most frequent request that NCF gets for missionary nursing is for nurse educators and nurse managers. Gaining skills in education or organizational development will allow you to equip national nurses and improve the healthcare services in the host country.
Become familiar with the culture of you host country. Cultural beliefs and values strongly influence healthcare practices. Seek to learn more about how the culture views illness, what causes illness, and what the place suffering has in light of eternity. Learning what people believe about a deity, the origins of the world and what happens after death are helpful when presenting the gospel message. Language gives great insight into culture. Learning the greetings, simple requests, and numbers will help you connect to people. Fluency is a must for longer service.
A solid spiritual foundation cannot be overemphasized. As a missionary nurse engages others in a dialogue about their relationship with God, it is important that his/her relationship is on solid ground. Prayer, the study of the bible and fellowship with fellow Christians is prerequisite for successful ministry and overcoming adversity that is related to missionary nursing.
8. I'm interested in going on a short-term mission trip. Where do I begin?
NCF does not officially sponsor any short-term missions programs, but we encourage nurses and nursing students to participate in short-term mission opportunities to expand their view of God’s global Kingdom. We partner with the Global Missions Health Conference held each November in Louisville, KY. They have an excellent website for healthcare missions that provides wonderful resources and answers lots of questions. We also recommend the Christian Medical & Dental Associations short-term missions program, Global Health Outreach. For nurse educators who are qualified and interested in teaching nursing abroad, NCF has a relationship with Medical Education International and with Nurses International.
9. How do I know if a project is right for me?
There are a plethora of short-term mission opportunities in healthcare. It is often difficult to tell which programs actually contribute to advancing God's Kingdom and improving the health of the people they serve.
Recently the Fellowship of Short-Term Mission Leaders (FSTML) developed short-term mission standards to which mission organizations can voluntarily subscribe.
The seven standards that FSTML have set are:
- Empowering partnerships
- Mutual design
- Comprehensive administration
- Qualified leadership
- Appropriate training
- Thorough follow-up
An elaboration of the standards can be found here. Use these criteria to ask questions about the proposed short-term mission trip to help you determine if this is the right trip for you. If you are going on a short-term mission trip with the objective of exploring long-term mission, try to find a trip that will give you a feel for what you hope to be doing.
A team of healthcare professionals have been working on Best Practices for Christian Short-Term Healthcare Missions. Follow their best practices guidelines for the planning, execution, integration and follow-through of cross-cultural health missions.
10. How do I find a sending organization for long-term missions?
There are many things to consider when choosing a mission organization.
First, you should agree with the organization's statement of belief. If you are a member of a church that is part of a denomination that sends missionary nurses, you may want to begin your search there. Ask the mission organization for a copy of their Statement of Faith.
Second, determine whether the organization requires you to raise your own support or will be providing a salary. Some denominational and development organizations will provide salaries for nurses. Faith-based missions require missionaries to raise their financial support.
Other considerations for selecting a mission organization include:
- Personnel policies for:
- preparation and training for cross-cultural ministry
- member care services (how it cares for families, how it provides for the spiritual formation of its personnel)
- health insurance, pensions and retirement
- crisis management and hostage-taking
- handling disciplinary problems
- The "personality" of an organization:
- What does it value? (Quantity vs. quality of care? Relationships? Efficiency?)
- How does it treat its personnel (both expatriate and national)?
- The financial status of the organization
- Consult Caring Across Cultures: Preparing for Effective Missionary Nursing.
11. I'm going on a mission trip. Where can I order medical supplies and pharmaceuticals?
First, a few words of advice on this topic:
The World Health Organization(WHO) has issued guidelines regarding donations of pharmaceuticals and medical equipment. The Best Practices in Christian Health Missions, endorses the WHO guidelines and suggests that healthcare professionals engaged in missions familiarize themselves with these guidelines. Also, many host countries have laws regulating the types of pharmaceuticals allowed into their countries. Some medical equipment may be subject to import duty. Failure to comply with the regulations of the host country could place a person in violation of these laws and in legal jeopardy.
• The cost of shipping medical supplies often exceeds their value. Check to see if these supplies are available for purchase in that country and consider supporting the local economy.
• In the case of electrical equipment, check the electricity supplies and voltage compatibility.
• Many pharmaceutical companies donate drugs that are about to expire. Even though they may still be "good," host countries may refuse to let you bring in expired drugs. As Christian health professionals, we don't want to communicate that the people we serve in the host country are less valuable, and therefore can be given expired drugs, than the people we serve in the United States.
• The World Health Organization has encouraged countries to make a list of pharmaceuticals that can be used in that country. Some countries will not allow drugs into their country which are not on their lists. (There are good reasons for this. Often drugs make their way into the marketplace where people may not know how to properly use them. Also, medical personnel in other countries may not be familiar with the pharmaceuticals, especially combination drugs, used in the United States and therefore may prescribe them inaccurately.)
• Some drugs and medical supplies are mostly water that is heavy and costs a lot to transport. Also, unit dose packaging and sample packaging takes up space and weight. If you have the benefit of having a pharmacist on your team, consult with him/her about repackaging and/or preparing solutions and syrups in the host country.
12. How do I plan a short-term healthcare mission project?
Often nurses are asked to organize a healthcare outreach as part of a short-term missions trip. If done well, these outreaches can provide meaningful opportunities to model how Jesus cares for the whole person. However, lack of proper planning and relationships with the host community has the potential for creating setbacks at best -- or doing harm at worst.
It’s important to ask some specific questions when planning a healthcare missions program:
- What is the motivation for including healthcare as a part of this missions program?
- What healthcare needs are present in the community that is to be served?
- Who is addressing those needs in the community now? Are there indigenous healthcare professionals with whom you can work? Who will follow up after the project ends?
- What are the legal requirements for practicing professionally?
- How do the care recipients understand western medicine?
- What will be the focus of the healthcare mission: health promotion and prevention of disease, curative care, or a combination of prevention and cure?
- Will the project include teaching? Who will be taught? What will be taught?
For answers to these questions, see the article, Planning a Short-term Healthcare Mission Project, by Grace Tazelaar, NCF Missions Specialist.
13. Where do I find a Christian nurse to fill a position?
Nurses Christian Fellowship is not an employment agency nor can we offer referral services. NCF does not post job listings nor advertisements regarding employment.
If you wish to place an ad in the Journal of Christian Nursing, please go to Lippincott Williams & Wilkins' Advertising Center for complete information.
Dialogue with Grace Tazelaar at email Grace.
14. I’m interested in using my nursing to serve God in a Christian context. Does NCF have any suggestions?
NCF does not offer career placement services. We have partnered with several Christian umbrella organizations that do offer some placement services.