How International Experience Can Benefit Your Nursing Career

NursingDecember 11, 2018

If you are enrolled in an online nursing school, you are clearly interested in a fulfilling career in nursing. Online study is an excellent way to further your career, by obtaining your RN-to-BSN degree, for instance. But have you ever considered the possibility of studying to become a nurse abroad? Or, if that is not in the cards, perhaps volunteering opportunities abroad intrigue you.


Shift Perspective, See More Clearly


Proponents of international study/volunteering note that nursing is a people-focused profession. Nothing better prepares you for the diversity of cultures, languages, beliefs and religious practices you may encounter while working as a nurse than time spent abroad. That is because living in a foreign country necessarily involves being exposed to languages and cultures that are unfamiliar to you. It forces you to shift perspectives, and to more carefully consider the impact of cultural beliefs and practices.


Living and studying abroad is an excellent way to further your understanding of the worldviews and lifestyles of the diverse people you intend to serve. It can provide useful insights that could help make you a more effective provider of healthcare. Study abroad is also credited with enhancing students’ self confidence, resourcefulness, and cultural competence.


Failure to fully appreciate cultural differences has often resulted in nurses missing important cues regarding the proper treatment of a given patient. Doctors are seldom able to spend as much time with their patients as the patients’ nurses. Accordingly, it is often up to perceptive nurses to notice such cues and clues that could have a bearing on a patient’s treatment and recovery.


Willingness to Learn from Others


Practices or beliefs that seem inappropriate in our culture may be entirely appropriate in another. Consider the practice of inserting extremely fine needles into apparently random spots all over the body. Just a few decades ago in this country, such a practice would have seemed barbaric, or superstitious at best. Today, the ancient Chinese medical art of acupuncture is an accepted practice that is often available to patients at large urban hospitals all over America.


This practice was undoubtedly observed by foreigners living abroad, or living among Chinese immigrants, long before it was mainstreamed into Western medicine. Perhaps the experience of living among natives influenced these observers’ willingness to seriously consider the efficacy of the practice, rather than dismissing it out of hand.


Another example comes from the ancient Indian system of medicine, known as Ayurveda. While it is easy to dismiss a medical system so foreign to our own, it is interesting to note that Ayurveda has been prescribing herbal remedies for thousands of years. Many of the active compounds in these herbs are only now being investigated by Western scientists for various promising properties.


The chemicals collectively called curcumin, for instance, derive from the curry spice turmeric. For centuries, this herb has been prescribed medicinally, while the Western world viewed it as a mere culinary herb. Now evidence is mounting that curcumin possesses potent antibiotic, anti-cancer, and antioxidant properties, among others.


Regional Disease Awareness


Of course, depending on where you travel, you may encounter rare or tropical diseases that are simply not endemic to the United States. By studying or volunteering abroad, it may be possible to gain expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of such exotic diseases.


Given that climate change is clearly prompting an expansion of the range of many diseases. Keep in mind that Zika virus did not exist in this country until very recently. Other examples include Dengue fever, Powassan virus and Chikungunya. Upon your return home, it could be extremely useful to have such expertise should the disease in question ever become common here.