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Volunteering as a nurse

What is your accountability?

The opportunity to spend a week outdoors sounds exciting to Thom. It also sounds a little daunting. He’s been asked to volunteer as the nurse at a program for at-risk youth.​

Thom's helped out at the youth center before, but being the only nurse at the outdoor program is different; he’s never done anything like this, and wonders if he’s ready.

What's different about volunteering as a nurse in non-traditional settings?​​

Often, practicing in a non-traditional setting like a recreation centre, medical tent, or summer camp can mean you're working autonomously as an RN, perhaps without other health care providers on site. In addition, you may not have the resources and supports you're used to having when working in a traditional health care organization.

Regardless of the practice setting or the volunteer nature of a nursing role, you're required to practise in accordance with all the Standards of Practice (Scope, Professional Standards and Practice Standards), and within all relevant legislation and regulations.

What should Thom consider before deciding?

Thom could start by reviewing the role expectations and relevant organizational policies and protocols, and discussing any questions or concerns with the centre director. He'll need consider the competencies required for the position, assess his practice and identify and meet any learning needs.

Asking himself these questions may help Thom sort out whether the opportunity is right for him: ​ 

What are other factors to consider when volunteering as a nurse?
  • ​Who will my clients be? Program youth, program staff, and/or other volunteers?
  • Am I familiar with policies for common conditions and/or treatment, for example heat stroke, anaphylaxis, overdose, minor/major injuries, mental health matters?
  • Do I have the specific knowledge, skills and judgment required to provide the appropriate treatment / services, and manage any outcomes?
  • Can I competently administer the medications commonly required? Do I understand the organizational policies related to their collection, storage, distribution and administration?
  • Do I know how I'll document the care I provide, review and update clients' health records?
  • Do I know how to access a physician or nurse practitioner if necessary and what support might be available from other health care professionals or service providers?
  • Am I familiar with the emergency procedures and consultation processes when client care is urg​ent or beyond available resources on site?
  • Am I aware of other organizational resources such as policies, decision support tools, other clinical supports and equipment?
  • Does the organization have policies on liability insurance? Note that the Canadian Nurse Protective Society (CNPS) provides professional liability protection for all CRNBC-registered nurses with practising registration. 

What does Thom decide?

After reviewing the role description and discussing it with the youth centre director and other staff, Thom decides to take on the challenge. He prepares for the week by reviewing the centre's policies and decision support tools and making sure his emergency first aid is current.

What additional resources will be helpful for Thom?

The Scope Standards, Acting Within Autonomous Scope of Practice and Acting with Client-specific Orders, and the Scope of Practice for RNs: Standards, Limits and Conditions can provide direction and answer questions about scope of practice.

The following Practice Standards may be particularly relevant in these settings:

The Regulatory Practice Consultants are also always available to assist you with any questions and issues you might have.

Professional liability protection when volunteering

As a CRNBC practising registrant, you receive professional liability protection through the Canadian Nurse Protective Society (CNPS). This protection covers both paid and volunteer nursing. For more information on what CNPS provides you go to​

CRNBC thanks the College of Registered Nurses of Nova Scotia for their permission to repurpose content from their website for this case study.

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