Disaster Nursing Jobs: How Nurses Can Help During Disasters

disaster nursing and emergencyBy Erin Wallace

Nurses care for patients in hospitals and medical centers, and they provide critical help for civilians and other medical personnel in disaster situations. 

Some disaster nursing is coordinated through an organized response; in other cases, nurses act as volunteers. Disaster nurses are prepared to help those in need through physical, mental and emotional care.

While helping assisting in the days and weeks following disaster situations, RNs must be able to adapt their skills from focusing on the care of individual patients to providing care for large numbers of patients.

Disaster Nursing: How Nurses Help During Disasters

Stephen Ferrara, the Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs at Columbia University School of Nursing and Executive Director of the Nurse Practitioner Association of New York State, says nurses and nurse practitioners provide a number of interventions for those affected by disasters, including “administering vaccinations, providing first aid and primary care, prescribing medications for chronic conditions that may have run out and providing essential health information for infection control purposes.”

Ferrara also points out that these efforts to help nonmedical personnel and first responders, such as firefighters, police officers and EMTs, are often through coordinated efforts.

“These [disaster nursing] opportunities [need to be] coordinated with the appropriate agencies, since licensure is state-specific and special emergency applications may need to be completed prior to deployment (if out of their “home” state).”

Other Ways Nurses Help During Disasters

According to an article from the Duquesne University School of Nursing, nurses are uniquely qualified to help manage emergency situations because they can “perform the proper assessments, prioritize injuries, communicate effectively and collaborate with other providers.”

In general, nurses provide essential emergency medical care and long-term relief. A great example is after Hurricane Harvey, which affected Texas in August of 2017. 

At the time, the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses asked for nationwide assistance because local nurses in the areas affected by the hurricane were in “critical need of NICU registered nurses to help provide relief to those who have been working countless hours since Hurricane Harvey made landfall.” 

In response, many disaster nurses responded with offers of help and assistance.

Nursing Ethics in Disaster Nursing

For RNs who travel to a disaster area to provide medical assistance, some may face challenging ethical dilemmas while providing patient care. For instance, sometimes nurses have to pass over those patients with mortal injuries in order to help those who have a better likelihood of survival.

Prioritizing patients is a difficult task, but it is one that RNs must be prepared to do if they are assisting other medical personnel in a disaster area.

Nurses who are considering contributing their services in disaster response situations should think carefully about whether they're physically, mentally and emotionally prepared to provide care to individuals affected by natural disasters.


© 2013 AMN Healthcare, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction and distribution of these materials is prohibited without the expressed written authorization of AMN Healthcare, Inc.