Missionary Nurse Career Overview

Updated June 22, 2022 · 6 Min Read

Missionary nurses travel overseas to deliver nursing care and Christian counseling. See how you can become a missionary nurse and learn more about what they do.

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Missionary Nurse Career Overview
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Want to travel the world to provide spiritual counsel and nursing care? Approximately 4 million people worldwide lack access to quality healthcare, partly because of staffing shortages. Missionary nurses, sometimes called refugee nurses, help patients in underserved areas around the globe.

They work with humanitarian nonprofits, religious organizations, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to reach vulnerable communities. Missionary nurses often respond to specific health crises, such as COVID-19, HIV/AIDS, or tuberculosis.

While missionary nurses usually need a bachelor's degree in nursing, some can find employment with only an associate degree in nursing (ADN).

Both voluntary and paid positions call for experienced registered nurses (RNs) to provide general healthcare, vaccinations, and physical exams. In cases of emergency, unseasoned missionary nurses may also go overseas.

Explore this guide for more information on becoming a missionary nurse.

What Does a Missionary Nurse Do?

ADN or BSN required (preference for BSN)
certification optional


Relief organizations and religious groups call on missionary nurses to provide routine healthcare during times of crisis, such as the 2021 earthquake in Haiti or the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia. Missionary nurses partner with physicians to deliver care in underserved communities. Faith often remains an integral part of a missionary nurse's work.

At sites across the world, missionary nurses do physical assessments, collect specimens, offer education and counseling, and spread religious or spiritual messages. They might organize clean water initiatives or raise money for communities.

Responsibilities & Requirements

  • Assessing patients and documenting medical histories
  • Developing quality assurance tools
  • Working overseas
  • Being tolerant and aware of different cultures
  • Coordinating with local partners
  • Learning another language

Career Traits

  • Assess and care for patients in high-need communities overseas
  • Provide spiritual guidance

Credit: laflor / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Certification Option: Basic Life Support Certification

Where Do Missionary Nurses Work?

Missionary nurses serve around the world, usually in some of the poorest countries. They comply with international standards and guidelines set by the World Health Organization.

Some may receive pay, but most missionary nurses work on a volunteer basis. Experienced missionary nurses and nursing students go on medical missions to help people with limited access to healthcare, clean water, and other resources, such as clothing and food.

Host countries around the world partner with churches, NGOs, nonprofits, and humanitarian groups to place missionary nurses in the following settings:

Clinics

Missionary nurses often work in under-resourced clinics to assess and treat patients. They may perform emergency care, triage patients, or provide routine checkups to adults or children.

Their duties may also include expanding outreach and working with local partners.

Hospitals

Nurses often serve in underequipped hospitals to provide inpatient and outpatient services. Many hospitals operate to serve indigenous people in remote areas, such as the ​​Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico or the Rio Viejo of Honduras.

Mobile Caravans

Mobile clinics need missionary nurses to provide educational outreach, free medical attention, and wellness checkups to inaccessible regions. They work with doctors from the U.S. and host countries, often on short-term missions.

Staff also travel to villages to teach the Bible. Domestically, mobile health vans operate through churches to help uninsured patients access screenings and vaccinations.

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Why Become a Missionary Nurse?

Becoming a missionary nurse offers the opportunity to share the Gospel and care for underserved populations. The job offers many rewards, but also many challenges.

Advantages to Becoming a Missionary Nurse


  • Travel to remote regions
  • Learn local languages and cultures
  • Help people with limited access to healthcare
  • Teach people the Gospel
  • Foster relationships with local healthcare workers and community members

Disadvantages to Becoming a Missionary Nurse


  • Risk of contracting diseases and becoming injured
  • Settings with limited resources and high demand
  • Staff with varying education and experience.
  • Unknown surroundings
  • Cultural differences complicating healthcare delivery

How to Become a Missionary Nurse

Complete prerequisites for an ADN or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN)
You need to complete prerequisites, such as microbiology, physiology, chemistry, English, statistics, and psychology to enroll in an ADN or a BSN degree.
Earn a BSN or an ADN degree
After completing the prerequisites, you need to take all major credits, including clinical requirements. It requires 2-4 years to earn a degree.
Pass the NCLEX exam
About 45 days after graduation, aspiring registered nurses can take the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN). Test-takers must pass the computerized NCLEX-RN exam, which is mostly multiple-choice questions, to get a license.
Find employment
With a license and experience, RNs can apply for jobs to become missionary nurses. Many religious nonprofits offer placement on missions.

learn More About How to Become a Nurse

How Much Do Missionary Nurses Make?

Traveling to serve on a mission rarely offers well-paid opportunities. Many missionary nurses go overseas on a volunteer basis, paying for their own transportation and personal expenses. Depending on the organizations they work for, missionary nurses may receive full or partial compensation.

RNs earn a median annual salary of $75,330, or $36.22 an hour. Salaries vary by experience, setting, and organization. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), RNs can make less than $53,410 or more than $116,230.

Underdeveloped countries need missionary nurses to serve patients, especially in inaccessible locations. Jobs for RNs could increase by 9% from 2020-2030, according to the BLS. More than 3 million RNs work in the U.S., with employers expected to add 194,500 positions every year during that time.

Missionary Nurse FAQs


What does a missionary nurse do?

Missionary nurses travel overseas, but they also work domestically to provide nursing care to people that have little access to healthcare services.

Work settings for missionary nurses may include medical health vans or clinics. Medical staff often face cultural and language barriers and have little resources.

How much does a missionary nurse make?

It depends. Medical missionary positions do not always pay, and when they do, missionary nurses do not make substantial wages compared to top-paying nursing jobs. Consider that in other industries, the lowest 10% of RNs make $53,410, while the top 10% earn more than $116,230.

How do I become a missionary nurse?

Earning an ADN or a BSN marks the first step to becoming a missionary nurse. All prospective missionary nurses need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam and get licensed in their respective state.

Where do missionary nurses go?

Missionary nurses can work anywhere — Africa, Asia, Latin America, Nigeria, Peri, Honduras, Kenya, Bangladesh, etc.

Resources for Missionary Nurses

CCHF's job network offers the chance for missionary nurses to spread the Gospel and improve healthcare in disadvantaged areas. Applicants must complete a candidate profile to receive free curated employer matches from mission organizations.

Missionary nurses and students can find research and articles from this peer-reviewed journal. Articles aim to enrich the nursing practice from a Biblical perspective. The journal, founded in 1984, releases four issues per month with information about continuing education contact hours.

Missionary nurses can find domestic and international missions through IMR, a nonreligious organization founded in 2002 to provide medical services and health education to vulnerable communities. The medical teams also work to provide clean water and sanitation.

Launched in 1978, Mercy Ships operates with a crew of volunteers that provides free healthcare to people in developing and developed nations. Volunteers work by following Jesus' example of "bringing hope and healing." After completing the boarding program, missionary nurses ages 18-70 can serve on missions longer than 12 months. Volunteers cover their own personal expenses, crew fees, and transportation costs.

Headquartered in Boone, North Carolina, Samaritan's Purse has been helping people suffering from natural disasters, poverty, disease, and war since 1970. This nondenominational evangelical organization offers opportunities for missionary nurses who can work with the Disaster Assistance Response Team, which offers pay when they go on an active mission.


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