Experiences of Nurses Volunteering in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Monday, 13 July 2009: 2:45 PM

Deborah L. Ulmer, PhD, (education), PhD, (nursing), MEd, RN
Nursing, John Tyler Community College, Midlothian, VA

Learning Objective 1: identify obstacles that make it difficult for nurses as they decide to volunteer in global disasters.

Learning Objective 2: identify issues that prevent nurses from being able to fully participate as volunteers in global disasters.


The purpose of this transcendental phenomenological study was to identify obstacles nurses faced and overcame after they decided to volunteer in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.


Snowball sampling was used to identify 11 nurses who volunteered in disaster relief of Katrina. Each nurse participated in a 60-90 minute taped interview. The Stevick-Colaizzi-Keen method reported by Moustakas (1994) was applied to arrive at a final composite textural-structural description of the essences of the experience. Member checking was used to validate meanings.


Three themes emerged specific to the obstacles the volunteer nurses had to overcome after they made the decision to volunteer: family, work and organizations. The willingness and persistence required to overcome these obstacles is important to understanding how meaningful and significant the nurses expected the experience to be in their lives and how important their commitment to volunteer was to them.

Four themes emerged from the analysis of the nurses’ experiences after deciding to volunteer: obstacles encountered getting there, improvising, leaving and remembering.


Nurses will continue to volunteer in global disasters. The stories of the nurses in this study provide evidence that nurses expect to be supported in their decisions to volunteer and expect to be put to work appropriately in the field of operations. Further, evidence indicates that these experiences are life changing for the volunteer nurses. A better understanding by relief agencies of the motivations and capabilities of the volunteer nurses could produce more effective results in the disaster situations, and more satisfying experiences for the nurses.


Moustakas, C. (1994). Phenomenological research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.