Theoretical Explanations for Nurses' Involvement as Volunteers in Global Disasters

Thursday, 15 July 2010: 3:45 PM

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

Learning Objective 1: explain motivations of people who volunteer and consider the relevance of the volunteer theories to nursing.

Learning Objective 2: apply theories of volunteerism to understanding the motivations of nurses who volunteer in global disasters.

Purpose: To explore and present theoretical notions of compassion and volunteerism as a foundation for understanding nurses' notable involvement in global disasters. As much as the word "compassion" is used in nursing, there is very little literature describing the concept or analyzing it's application in nursing. In exploring why nurses might choose to volunteer to assist in global disasters, an explanation of the concept of volunteerism may be derived from theories about volunteerism in the literature of psychology and sociology, but again, very little is provided in the nursing literature, yet nurses have done these heroic acts throughout the history of nursing.


1. Explain the history and tradition of volunteerism in nursing.               

2. Provide literature review of the concpet of "compassion" and relate it to the work of nurse volunteers in global disasters.              

3. Provide literature review of theories of volunteerism as they may apply to nurses who assist in global disasters.


1. There is no nursing literature that explains the concept of compassion as it applies to nurses volunteering in global disasters.

2. There are theoretical explanations for  volunteerism, but there are no theories of nurse volunteerism in global disasters.

3. There is no empirical research reported in the nursing literature about nurses volunteering in global disasters. Conclusion:

The tradition of volunteerism, or nurses going where they are most needed, is displayed as moral duty and compassion and it is clearly not unknown in the history and profession of nursing. Understanding why nurses undertake these experiences, and accepting that nurses will continue to do so,  can help organizations make the volunteer efforts of nurses more successful.