How to Become a Missionary Nurse

NurseJournal Staff
Updated July 1, 2022
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Interested in providing both nursing and spiritual care to people who lack access to quality healthcare? Then, keep reading to find out more about becoming a missionary nurse.
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Missionary nurses provide much needed nursing services and spiritual support to underserved populations all over the world. They work with a variety of humanitarian and nonprofit organizations in regions that lack access to quality healthcare.

Explore this guide to learn how to become a missionary nurse and what to expect once you complete your training and enter the field.

What Is a Missionary Nurse?

Missionary nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who serve the needs of underserved communities in the U.S. or economically underdeveloped regions across the globe. Churches or religious groups, humanitarian foundations, and nonprofit governmental organizations (NGOs) employ RNs with strong personal or faith-based convictions to bring healthcare and spiritual guidance to the world’s most vulnerable groups.

Missionary nurses typically work in regions that lack access to health facilities and medical technology, sometimes in dangerous areas. Depending on the setting, they conduct physical exams, triage patients, administer medicine and vaccinations, and dress wounds.

They also educate patients about disease prevention and hygiene and conduct tests and screenings. Missionary nurses also respond to global medical emergencies.

Steps to Becoming a Missionary Nurse

Like all RNs, the steps to becoming a missionary nurse begin with earning either a two-year or four-year nursing degree. All RNs, including missionary nurses, must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN) and get an RN license. Specific RN licensure requirements vary by state.

Most employers require RNs to have certifications in basic life support (BLS) and sometimes advanced cardiac life support (ACLS). Missionary nurses also benefit from foreign language training and coursework in global health and cultural competency for nurses.

  1. 1

    Earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree.

    Missionary nurses must earn either a two-year associate nursing degree or a four-year bachelor of science in nursing. Because many employers prefer to hire graduates with a four-year degree, many RNs with ADN degrees decide to continue their education by enrolling in RN-to-BSN degree programs.

    Accelerated BSN programs offer a pathway to nursing careers for individuals who already have earned a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field. These accelerated programs, which prepare graduates for RN licensure and entry-level nursing roles, usually take less than two years to complete.

  2. 2

    Pass the NCLEX exam to receive RN licensure.

    The NCLEX-RN exam, required for state licensure, assesses the knowledge and skills needed for entry-level nursing positions. The exam, which covers key areas in nursing practice, management, and safety, consists of mostly multiple-choice questions. Other types include multiple-response, fill-in-the-blank, and drag-and-drop questions.

  3. 3

    Gain experience in missionary nursing.

    Students interested in missionary nursing should consult with their advisors to find clinical placements working with vulnerable groups in low-income areas.

    Before and after they graduate, nursing students should establish relationships with religious organizations and humanitarian agencies. Aspiring missionary nurses should explore volunteer and internship nursing opportunities with marginalized groups in the U.S. or, if possible, overseas.

  4. 4

    Consider certifications.

    Missionary nurses need a valid RN license issued through a state board of nursing and a life support certificate.

    Although RNs do not pursue a specific certification for this nursing role, BSN students interested in missionary nursing can focus on areas that address the healthcare needs of underserved groups.

    These may include critical care, pediatrics, HIV/AIDS, and infection control specializations.

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Missionary Nurse Education

Earning a two-year ADN degree provides the quickest route to becoming a missionary nurse. A four-year BSN, which many employers might prefer, offers broader training. It also increases career and salary prospects.

Prospective missionary nurses should consider incorporating foreign language study and diversity training into their study plans.

ADN Degree

Although some employers prefer to hire nurses with BSN degrees, missionary nurses who want to begin practicing as quickly as possible often choose to earn a two-year associate degree in nursing.

An ADN provides the minimum eligibility requirements for the NCLEX-RN exam and state licensure, leading to many entry-level RN careers. RNs who enter the field with an ADN degree can expand their career options by enrolling in an RN-to-BSN program after gaining nursing experience.

  1. 1

    Admission Requirements

    High school diploma or GED certificate; science and math prerequisites; official transcripts; SAT or ACT scores; personal essay

  2. 2

    Program Curriculum

    Fundamental nursing practice; pharmacology; nutrition; health systems; clinical experience

  3. 3

    Time to Complete

    Two years

  4. 4

    Skills Learned

    Practical nursing care for all populations and age groups; administering medication and other treatments; performing medical tests; using medical equipment

BSN Degree

Nurses who earn BSN degrees can generally expect more job opportunities than ADN-holders. A BSN, which typically takes four years to complete, offers broader training than an ADN degree, emphasizing evidence-based practice, leadership, and specialized patient care.

RNs who want to pursue advanced practice nursing roles must have a BSN for admission to master’s in nursing programs.

  1. 1

    Admission Requirements

    High school diploma, GED certificate, or ADN degree; minimum 3.0 GPA; letters of recommendation; SAT or ACT; personal essay

  2. 2

    Program Curriculum

    Evidence-based practice; leadership and management in nursing; nursing informatics; community health; mental health; cultural awareness; clinical requirements

  3. 3

    Time to Complete

    Four years; two years for ADN degree-holders

  4. 4

    Skills Learned

    Fundamental nursing skills; health assessment; leadership; research; public health; cultural competency in nursing; specialized training in areas such as pediatrics, acute care, and critical care

Missionary Nurse Licensure and Certification

All RNs who intend to practice as missionary nurses must pass the NCLEX-RN exam and receive their RN license through their state board of nursing. Generally, RN licenses must be renewed every two years. Each state sets different RN requirements to maintain licensure.

Most RNs, including missionary nurses, must have BLS certification from the American Heart Association. Nurses who work in hospital settings or with critically ill adults should get the ACLS certification. Missionary nurses may also pursue the pediatric advanced life support certification, designed to teach rescue workers essential life-saving interventions for infants and children.

While specialized certification in missionary nursing does not exist, many pursue certifications through the American Nurses Credentialing Centeror other organizations that validate their skills in areas such as critical care, trauma, and infectious diseases.

Working as a Missionary Nurse

Nurses interested in working in this field should consider joining organizations like Global Health Ministries, Samaritan’s Purse, International Medical Relief,and the American Travel Health Nurses Association to network and learn about opportunities.

While still in nursing school, aspiring missionary nurses can gain experience through clinical placements, volunteer work, and internships. They can also prepare for employment by getting a valid passport and a travel work visa.

Missionary nurses find positions through church or religious groups, humanitarian agencies, NGOs, and other nonprofit organizations.They perform a lot of duties and responsibilities, depending on the organization’s mission and the assignment.

They may treat patients in hospitals, clinics, mobile medical units, and community centers. In some areas, they may help to build clinics and train local staff. They may also offer spiritual guidance and religious training.

Many missionary nurses enter this field because of their personal and spiritual commitment to humanitarian service, with salary considerations as secondary. They often serve as volunteers and/or pay for their own living and transportation expenses.

However,compensation for missionary nursesvaries widely, depending on the sponsoring organization, experience, and location.

While the U.S.Bureau of Labor Statisticsdoes not provide specific salary information for missionary nurses, the demand for all RNs is projected to increase by 9% between 2020 and 2030, earning salaries from $59,450 to $120,250.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Missionary Nurse

question-mark-circleHow many years does it take to become a missionary nurse?

Prospective RNs can enter a two-year ADN program or four-year BSN program. Like all RNs, missionary nurses must pass the NCLEX-RN exam, apply for licensure through their state board of nursing, and gain 1-2 years of RN experience.

question-mark-circleWhat is the quickest way to become a missionary nurse?

A missionary nurse can enter the field after earning a two-year ADN degree and getting an RN license. Some employers may prefer to hire RNs with BSN degrees and experience working with underrepresented and high-need communities.

Some church-sponsored or religious organizations only hire nurse missionaries who are affiliated with their group.

question-mark-circleWhere do missionary nurses work?

Missionary nurses work where their sponsoring organization places them. They practice in underserved urban and rural areas in the U.S. and in impoverished regions around the world.

They might visit patients in their homes or treat them in hospitals, clinics, community centers, and temporary emergency mobile sites.

question-mark-circleDo missionary nurses get paid well?

Salaries for missionary nurses vary widely, depending on the type of employer and setting. However, compensation for these nurses does not always correspond to the pressing need for trained healthcare personnel in underserved regions.

Many missionary nurses, driven to serve by their religious and personal convictions, choose to volunteer their services or accept lower wages. Nurses working for religious organizations may be required to fundraise as part of their work obligations.

Reviewed by:

Portrait of Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC

Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC

As an assistant professor of nursing and entrepreneur with 20 years of varied nursing experience, Brandy Gleason offers a unique perspective. She currently teaches in a prelicensure nursing program and coaches master’s students. Gleason brings additional expertise as a bedside nurse and nurse leader, having held past roles at the supervisory, managerial, and senior leadership levels. Her passion and area of research centers around coaching nurses and nursing students to build resilience and avoid burnout.

Brandy Gleason is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.

Page last reviewed June 17, 2022

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