Do not go gentle into retirement—volunteer opportunities for former nurses

Shutterstock | Tyler OlsonShutterstock | Tyler Olson

When you’ve dedicated a lifetime to a craft that’s notorious for erratic hours, high-stress situations and constant contact with folks from every walk of life, retirement can go one of two ways.

For some nurses waving farewell to the grind, retirement is a long-awaited reward. Having paid more than their fair share of dues, they fully embrace it—the morning paper, book clubs, afternoons on the golf range…the whole shebang. For others, retirement is a little trickier, and quitting “cold turkey” feels, well, unsettling. What can we say? There’s no rest for the weary if the weary won’t stand for it.

The good news is, if the latter applies to you, you aren’t crazy—just passionate. And the even better news is that a compromise can be reached so that you can still feel like a part of something bigger than yourself without sacrificing all those summers abroad.

You’ve probably heard about a little thing called “volunteering” and it seems to be doing the trick for many recovering workaholics. Here are some of the routes a newly retired nurse might consider:

1. Public education

You’ve treated more than enough pregnant smokers and overweight teens to understand the significance of basic health literacy, along with the public education programs that support it.

Whether it’s tackling sex education at a local high school, volunteering at a nonprofit such as Planned Parenthood or supporting HIV/AIDS awareness in at-risk communities, nurses are more than fit to serve as educators in all things health. Nurses—even if you aren’t on the clock, you can still put your knowledge, patience, compassion and carefully honed understanding of people to good use by shifting from the realm of treatment to prevention.

2. Free clinics

You may be ready to reclaim your life, maybe even pick up a hobby or two, but chances are that the urge to help those in need hasn’t fully retreated…and probably never will. Whether it’s once a week or once a month, your services will always be welcome (and in some cases—desperately needed) at free clinics dedicated to providing medical treatment and counsel to the underserved.

It’s all the satisfaction of providing care without the (sometimes) disappointing demands of business, and that can be a beautiful thing.

3. Medical reserve corps

To say nurses are good in a crisis would be an understatement. If you’re ready to hang up your nursing cap, but never quite willing to play a passive role when things get messy, you can join a long list of medical professionals who have elected to be contacted in the event of a large-scale, local emergency.

As a volunteer with the medical reserve corps, you would be called to duty to join the efforts of emergency response teams, support active physicians and nurses when manpower is running low, and provide care to victims who have sustained injuries.

We like to think of it as retirement with a chance of rain.

4. Call centers

Speaking of crises—volunteering at a crisis call center is a wonderful way to keep one foot in the “giving back” door.

Whether it’s substance abuse, domestic violence, child/elder abuse and neglect, suicide, loneliness or depression—you name it, you’ve seen it, and acting as both an advocate and a confidant, you’ve helped people emerge from their lowest lows. Why not continue to do the same, on your own time?

Besides—we know how much you love talking.

4. Sexual assault volunteers

Given that nurses are one of the most trusted professions in the nation, it only makes sense that active and former nurses would be called upon to comfort and support victims of sexual assault before, during and immediately following exams.

5. Special needs camps/programs

Feel like one season on and three seasons off would be more than enough to keep you feeling good ‘n’ active? Consider volunteering as a nurse at a summer camp for children with special needs—there’s a very good chance they’ll be doubling down on medical staff to keep things running safely and smoothly.

(Psst, former peds nurses—we’re looking at you.)

Not sure if you’re ready to commit to stepping away from the joys of retirement for weeks at a time? Try your hand at a few less lengthy, one-off events first. You know, just to get a taste of it.

6. Go abroad

On the flip side, if you’re really willing to commit to a program in a “pack your bags” kind of way, you might consider going overseas to volunteer.

Medical clinics in underdeveloped countries are always in need of former or current nurses to assist staff with minor procedures such as blood work, injections, IV work and more. And the possibilities are endless. Whether you’re jetting off to Peru, Ghana, Thailand or Costa Rica, you will most definitely be able to tick that “travel” box off your retirement list.

7. Policy development

Having spent a good part of your lifetime working on the front lines of medicine, you could probably write a book about all the things wrong, right and absolutely necessary within the topsy-turvy world of healthcare.

So—why don’t you?

We’re not saying that you have to adopt “emerging author” as your next challenge, but wouldn’t it be lovely to serve as a voice of reason in some way, any way, now that you have all the time in the world to guide and contribute to the many conversations you’ve picked up on?

Take part in social and political campaigns geared toward improving the world you know inside and out. Serve on councils and on boards; lend your expertise to the formation of key healthcare policies and structural developments at every level.

In short, be a leader, an advocate and, at the very least, a concerned citizen. You can start by contacting your state nurses’ association and getting your “chat” on—there may already be a campaign underway to address an issue you feel strongly about.

Found yourself with a little extra time on your hands? Tell us what you do to stay busy and connected in the comments section below!

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