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Volunteer Opportunities for Former Nurses

Kristen Hamlin
Updated March 27, 2023
    Retired nurses can put their valuable skills to work by volunteering. Check out our list of volunteer opportunities ideal for people with nursing experience.
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    Senior woman medical volunteer smiles at babyCredit: SDI Productions / E+ / Getty Images

    For nurses who have devoted their careers to serving others, retirement presents the opportunity to do something new with the skills and knowledge they have developed over the years. Nurses can continue contributing to their communities by taking advantage of volunteer opportunities.

    With or without an active nursing license, there are plenty of ways to take part in healthcare and put your critical skills to work. Over the last year alone, thousands of nurses have come out of retirement to help during the pandemic, providing both direct patient care and working in vaccination clinics. In one Maryland community alone, six retired nurses with a combined 241 years of experience are volunteering to vaccinate residents.

    Although many states have changed licensing requirements in response to the pandemic, making it easier for retired nurses to return to practice, an active license is not always necessary to contribute your time. Nurses are well-suited for many opportunities that do not require a license, though might ask for additional training.

    While some of the roles suggested here may be temporarily suspended or offered virtually during the pandemic, keep them on your radar if you would like to stay active and continue helping others after leaving the workforce.

    Popular Types of Internships and Volunteer Opportunities

    The American Red Cross

    The American Red Cross offers many volunteer options for retired and licensed nurses, including managing blood drives, providing disaster services, and developing and teaching training courses. Nurses who work with the Red Cross become a part of the Nursing Network, which recruits and engages nurses in fulfilling their mission. Participants can also contribute to the leadership of the Nursing Network as part of the National Nursing Committee.

    Apply to fill volunteer roles by searching for available positions. You can search by keyword or position title, browse open positions, or take a quick quiz to determine the best options based on your experience and interests.

    COVID-19 Vaccine Administration

    Retired nurses are needed to help administer COVID-19 vaccines at clinics and mass vaccination sites nationwide. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing maintains a directory of state registries for volunteer vaccine administrator enrollment.

    Depending on your state’s rules and needs, you may be able to volunteer to administer vaccines, provide patient screenings at vaccine sites, or help out in other ways. States like Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Tennessee, for example, have called upon retired healthcare professionals with vaccine experience to join the Medical Reserve Corps and may help with the license reinstatement process.

    Crisis Counseling

    Retired nurses are often well-suited to work as crisis counselors, thanks to their experience and training. Volunteering with organizations like Crisis Text Line and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline allows you to put your compassion to use by helping people get the support and resources they need.

    Most of these volunteer positions do not require an active nursing license, but you will need to pass a background check and complete training. Your experience in nursing may also qualify you for leadership or supervisory roles with crisis organizations.

    Doctors Without Borders

    Doctors Without Borders provides lifesaving medical care worldwide to the people who need it the most. The organization requires nurses working in the field to have a valid, active nursing license. Most nurses with Doctors Without Borders work in supervisory and training roles, helping local nurses and providers develop their skills.

    The organization requires practical nursing experience and knowledge in specific key areas, such as vaccine distribution or infectious disease management. For retired nurses who still have active licenses or who want a new challenge, Doctors Without Borders holds the potential to offer a life-changing experience.

    Hospice Volunteer

    Volunteers are integral to hospice services, providing support and comfort to terminal patients and their families. Retired nurses can use their experience to help provide care and companionship for patients or respite for caregivers and family members.

    Some nurses lead bereavement groups, offer crisis care, or help connect families with the support services they need. Hospice volunteers may also work in an office providing clerical support, fundraising, or advocacy. Most services only require a background check, references, and training to become a volunteer.

    Professional Organizations

    Professional nursing organizations such as the American Nurses Association and the National League for Nursing (NLN), offer multiple volunteer opportunities for both active and retired nurses. Organizations seek experienced nurses to serve on committees, review grant proposals, and help administer awards and recognition programs.

    Retired nurses may also provide input and assistance with credentialing and professional development activities. For example, the NLN recruits nurse educators to write test items for certification and review exams. Organizations may also need volunteers to serve as ambassadors to nursing schools and employers, keeping nurses up-to-date about their work.

    Patient Navigator or Advocate

    Modern healthcare is complex, and patients may need assistance managing their diagnosis and treatment, making sense of their insurance benefits, and accessing the services and support they need. Volunteer patient advocates or navigators help people get the care they need, walk them through the healthcare system, and solve problems as they come up.

    As someone with experience in the field, you may be able to volunteer with a hospital, senior center, agency on aging, community organization, or nonprofit condition-specific organization (like the American Heart Association or American Diabetes Association) to provide this service.

    Hospital Nurse Volunteer

    Most hospitals and health systems offer volunteer programs and opportunities that allow people to get involved in the healthcare community. Some facilities even have dedicated programs specifically for retired nurses, giving them a chance to provide companionship and comfort to patients.

    Other opportunities that may appeal to retired nurses include serving as patient liaisons, working in the neonatal unit or nursery, and assisting occupational or physical therapists. Contact your local hospital to inquire about their needs, which may be temporarily on hold due to COVID-19.

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    How to Renew or Reactivate Your Nursing License for Volunteering Purposes

    Every state holds its own requirements for renewing or reinstating a nursing license after you retire. In most cases, these requirements include the following:

    • Apply for reinstatement
    • Pay the required fee
    • Complete continuing education requirements, usually determined by how long your license has been inactive
    • Pass state and federal background checks

    Depending on how long it has been since you retired, you may also need to pass an exam to reinstate your license. Most states will only reinstate a license within five years of retirement unless you complete a refresher course.

    The license reinstatement process varies in terms of length and depends on how many continuing education courses you need. Because of COVID-19, some states, including Maine and Wisconsin, have implemented expedited processing for reactivations.

    The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred many states to change the license reactivation criteria for nurses who have retired. For instance, while state laws vary, many are allowing nurses to reactivate their licenses without paying fees or completing continuing education requirements. Depending on the license type, some states will only allow retired nurses to work in specific circumstances or for a limited time.

    In states such as in Illinois and Iowa, reinstatement is limited to nurses who retired with licenses in good standing within the last five years. Alternatively, states like Texas will issue a specific nursing license that allows you to practice only on a volunteer basis. Check with your state’s Board of Nursing to determine the requirements that apply to your situation.