Opinion: Why I Serve As a Volunteer Nurse Educator

Published May 27, 2022

One-third of the Children’s HeartLink medical volunteers are nurses and nurse educators. 40% of the clinicians we train are nurses.

In 2022, 17 volunteer nursing experts united their efforts to implement a virtual Nurse Residency Program (NRP) to train nurses in India and Malaysia. This program became an online version of our in-hospital NRP program, which was launched in 2014 in India and has helped dozens of nurses improve their skills. We asked some of our medical volunteers about what drives them to commit themselves to this work.

Sandra Staveski, RN, PhD, CPNP-AC, University of California San Francisco:

Dr. Sandra Staveski

“I believe nurses want to help other nurses be successful especially in caring for children with congenital heart disease. I have had the privilege and honor of working with amazing nurses in low- and middle-income countries that want to help children with heart disease but are not given the tools or education to be successful. I have always wanted to help change that and empower nurses to own their practice.  During our onsite NRP, it was so beautiful to watch the core nurses light up with the knowledge being shared. They then took that knowledge and shared it with others in their pediatric cardiac units. When we came back for the third session, the junior MDs were wanting to come to the course because of the growth they saw in the nurses’ practice. My hope for the NRP is to share it broadly and open access for free to any nurse or team of nurses that want to use this educational program because knowledge is power. Nurses in low- and middle-income countries can have a substantial impact on the lives of children.”

Read more about Dr. Sanda Staveski, who has been leading the planning, development and implementation of the Children’s HeartLink Nurse Residency Program.

Louise Callow, MSN, CPNP-PC, University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital:

Attendees of the virtual Children’s HeartLink Nurse Residency Progam, Malaysia, 2022

“In the USA, we are lucky to have resources to develop and implement health care strategies that provide a chance for infants, children, and adults with heart disease. We have access to treatment to repair or palliate heart defects that in other countries would result in significant morbidity and mortality. The ability to share our knowledge and teach care interventions to other countries without the rich resources of the USA​ is the biggest “give back” I can think of. Teaching and supporting other health care providers, nurses or physicians, who then teach and support future nurses and physicians, enables continued advancement and improvement in cardiac care. If I can be helpful in any way with my knowledge, experience, and time, I want to do so. If this makes a difference, I want to help.

I understand the educational system in low- and middle-income countries is not the same as in the USA, nor is licensure. I understand there may be cultural and workplace restrictions on the nurse’s level of decision making and provision of care. However, within these constraints, I would like to offer a chance for advanced nurse care provision to further augment bedside decision-making and even help retention.”

Jeff Paurus, RN, retired:

Jeff Paurus

“Volunteering internationally has helped me to be aware of the health care needs outside our own borders. It is easy to stay committed to this teaching when we work with nurses from other countries that are so receptive and appreciative. In addition, I realize as a U.S. nurse, I can learn a great deal from nurses who practice with much more limited resources in low- and middle-income nations. Children’s HeartLink volunteers presented all the classes at the first iteration of the NRP at Amrita Institut of Medical Sciences in Kochi, India. It was rewarding to learn how their own nursing staff assumed nearly all of the teaching roles for the succeeding presentation of the NRP.  This reflected progress with the goal of empowering our partner’s nursing staff.

I hope that staff turnover at partner sites will begin to moderate so that teaching and progress can become reliable and sustainable.  A goal for the virtual NRP is that it is provided on a regular basis and is utilized by an even large number of hospitals to routinely supplement their staff development.”

Justine Fortkiewicz, MSN, RN, Children’s National Hospital:

Nurse Residency Program, India, 2016

“I was connected to Children’s HeartLink through my good friend and mentor, Sandy Staveski. She knew I had a passion for nursing education in the field of pediatric cardiac critical care and had experience with teaching in low and middle-income countries. I love being able to share my expertise with nurses that are seeking knowledge. I also love the patient population. Children with congenital and acquired heart disease are truly inspirational. Mentoring, teaching and encouraging members of the healthcare team to care for these children is truly amazing and rewarding. Nurses that seek knowledge and professional development need leaders and mentors to guide them and teach them. I enjoy teaching and sharing my time.  With all the virtual learning options available now, we are able to reach more people than I ever imagined.

I want the NRP to remain a sustainable program that gives way to other similar training programs for more patient populations. I want to see the participants share their knowledge with their co-workers in their perspective countries. More access to this knowledge will result in better care for patients across the globe. I am truly honored to be part of the team.”

Read about how NRP has helped cardiac nurses grow their confidence and skills.