How Do Disaster Relief Nursing Jobs Work? | Trusted Nurse Staffing 987839088534212 [9:30 AM] Katie Iglewski

You earned your nursing degree to make a difference. Maybe a friend recently introduced the idea of disaster relief nursing, and now you’re curious, 

“What are disaster relief nursing jobs? Is disaster nursing the right field for me? What can I do to help during a tragedy?”

Are you ready to take on the responsibilities and overcome the barriers that come with becoming a disaster relief nurse? Are there other ways to continue to make a difference if disaster relief nursing isn’t the right fit for you? 

We’re here to answer all your questions about disaster nursing, how it differs from crisis nursing, and how you can get started as a disaster nurse.

Keep reading to learn more.



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What Is Disaster Nursing?

When disaster strikes, the first people to the frontlines of dangerous situations are often nurses. In the wake of a tragedy, disaster nurses react to help victims at the scene of a disaster and assist shelters and hospitals facing an overwhelming number of patients.

Disaster nurses travel wherever they are needed. They respond to natural and “man-made” disasters and like: 

  • Weather-related disasters — avalanches, earthquakes, droughts, tsunamis, storms, wildfires, etc. 
  • Disasters caused by humans — Industrial accidents, chemical accidents, bombings, terrorism, etc.

Disaster relief nursing jobs involve: 

  • Providing first aid  
  • Delivering medications; and 
  • Accessing and monitoring victims’ health needs. 

Disaster nurse’s roles begin before a catastrophic event occurs. Some agencies offer training and prepare response teams so they are ready to deploy an area affected by a disaster in less than 48 hours’ notice. 

Disaster relief nursing jobs are all hands on deck positions. 

Are you interested in becoming a travel nurse? Consider the following: 

  • Are you willing to travel anywhere in the country, possibly even the world, with very little notice? 
  • Are there any disasters you would feel uncomfortable or incapable of participating in relief efforts? 
  • Do you have a specific phase of disaster relief that you’d like to be involved in?

Disaster Nurse Roles During a Disaster

Agencies may or may not offer disaster training and preparedness courses for their nurses. Disaster response teams are prepared to deploy to affected areas in less than 24-hours. On the scene of a disaster, a nurse’s main goal is to provide efficient and effective medical care

Additional tasks may be required like cleaning up areas affected by the disaster, leading support groups, and helping victims get to shelter and safety.


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How Are Disaster Nursing Jobs Different From Crisis Nursing Jobs?

Crisis nursing is a fairly new term, although through the decades, crisis and disaster nursing jobs were very similar — it’s how travel nursing came about. 

Today, nurses working for crisis pay work extended hours and on considerably short contracts, hopping from hospital to hospital where they are needed to cover situations like the COVID-19 pandemic. 

They sound very similar, but disaster nursing jobs differ from crisis nursing jobs in several ways:

  1. Paid disaster nursing job contracts are less likely to be canceled at the drop of a dime
  2. Most disaster nursing jobs today are voluntary, unpaid positions

How Do I Become A Disaster Relief Nurse?

You’re here because something about becoming a disaster relief nurse has caught your attention, so how do you become a disaster relief nurse? 

First, you need to assess your skill set. Are you capable of taking on the job with very little training? When disaster strikes, there’s no time for in-depth training. 

For this reason, many organizations and agencies require disaster nurses to have:

  • Critical care or emergency room experience
  • Management skills
  • The ability to handle high-stress situations
  • First aid training
  • And understanding of disaster preparedness. 

Although staffing agencies don’t hire disaster relief nurses as frequently as they did decades ago, several organizations who are committed to helping when disaster strikes hire or accept volunteer disaster nurses regularly. 

American Red Cross

When a disaster strikes, the American Red Cross gives victims access to shelter, food, health services, and whatever is needed to meet basic human needs of those affected. 

If you are interested in becoming a disaster relief nurse with the American Red Cross, you may have to meet specific requirements, including: 

  • Licensure as a Registered Nurse
  • Special disaster relief preparedness training
  • 20 hours of volunteer or paid experience assisting a crisis team

Medical Reserve Corps

If you’re a registered nurse looking for an organization to volunteer with during a disaster, consider volunteering with the Medical Reserve Corps. The program uses physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals’ skills, ready to address their community’s needs.


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5 Factors to Consider When Looking for Disaster Relief Nursing Jobs

As a nurse, you already have a basic understanding of the sacrifices you make to give your patients the care they deserve. Your job entails long hours, skipped lunch breaks, and always putting the patient first. 

When volunteering or working a disaster relief nurse job, you’ll have to go above and beyond to care for victims. 

Disaster nurses have a strong desire to provide relief to victims however they can — even if it means leaving all that they know behind for weeks (even months) at a time with very little notice. 

Before signing up with an organization to become a travel nurse, it’s important that you consider things like the physical, physiological, and financial hardships that come with the job. 

#1: Your Physical Condition and Capabilities

As a disaster nurse, you’ll face many conditions you wouldn’t normally deal with in day-to-day life, even as a nurse. You must consider your physical condition and capabilities before taking on disaster relief nursing jobs. 

Ask yourself these questions: 

  • Is your health a concern? 
    • Anyone can fall sick from a cold or virus at any time, but you must be aware of your health. If you are prone to illness or are not healthy enough to work in extreme conditions, disaster nursing may not be the right job for you. To be of the utmost assistance during a disaster, disaster relief nurses must have a strong stamina — the days are long and often physically exhausting.
  • Are you capable of maintaining your composure and getting the job done, no matter your physical condition?
    • Unlike the other situations that you might be accustomed to, like travel nursing, disaster relief nurses typically don’t have many amenities (if any) available to them. Sleeping conditions might involve a cot in a room filled with other healthcare workers. Many of them work on little sleep after over twelve hours on their feet each day.
  • Are you prepared to work under poor living conditions?
    • During a natural disaster, things like lack of running water, toilets, and meals are common. It isn’t uncommon for disaster nurses to have to survive on non-perishable foods that they’ve packed or been given from the agency they work with.
  • Can you adapt to any situation, in any weather condition? Natural disasters are unpredictable.  
    • As a disaster relief nurse, you could be heading to a hot and humid area that has lost power with no access to amenities like air conditioning or running water.

#2: Psychological Impacts

As a disaster relief nurse, you may find yourself spending months away from familiar surroundings with little contact with family and friends. This can be especially straining on your mental health if you aren’t prepared. 

Disasters can also be overwhelming for volunteers, especially if you are witnessing victims suffering from loss. As a nurse, you’re passionate about helping others and fixing things — during disasters, you may find yourself feeling emotions like frustration, helplessness, and anger because you aren’t able to do more for the communities you are in. 

When looking into disaster relief nursing jobs, it is important to pay attention to your own mental health. Studies show that it isn’t uncommon for disaster relief workers, such as… 

  • Healthcare workers
  • Rescue workers; and 
  • Other volunteers 

…are more prone to mental health disorders like Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Will you be able to handle the intensity of disasters on little sleep and long weeks away from home?

#3: Financial Considerations

Physical and psychological impacts aren’t the only things you should keep in mind as a disaster relief nurse. If you are working with an agency or organization as a volunteer, your… 

  • Food
  • Travel 
  • And lodging 

…may be covered, but you won’t receive a salary. 

Do you have a financial cushion prepared for if disaster strikes and you are unable to work your salaried position for weeks at a time? Your employer may not pay you your regular salary during your disaster relief efforts, so you will have to choose between using your paid time off or taking an (unpaid) leave of absence. 

Do you have a current passport or travel Visa? As a volunteer working a disaster relief nursing job, you will be the one who incurs these additional costs.

#4: Level of Experience

Experience is essential to becoming a disaster relief nurse. To provide the best care quickly and efficiently, most organizations require their nurses to have several years of nursing experience. 

You’ll have to be able to adapt rapidly — most disaster relief nurses have less than one full day of training before they’re out helping victims.

#5: Adaptability

Are you able to think on your feet and overcome barriers? Disaster relief nurses have to know how to handle:

  • Disrupted transportation services
  • Language barriers
  • Cultural differences
  • Medical supply shortages
  • And more  


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Travel Nursing Can Prepare Those Who Are Interested in Disaster Relief Nursing — Trusted Nurse Staffing Provides Nurses with Opportunities All Over the Country

Not sure if you’re ready to jump into a disaster relief nursing job?  Does the idea of helping communities around the Nation bring you joy? 

Maybe you’ve been a nurse for years and you’re looking to expand your knowledge, build your experience, and see if you could take on being a disaster relief nurse in the future. 

As a travel nurse with Trusted Nurse Staffing, you’ll gain access to opportunities and experience at hospitals throughout the country. As the highest paying travel nursing agency in the industry, we’re committed to providing our travel nurses with the best of the best.

Our recruiters work around the clock to provide our staff with the support they need to successfully treat their patients and maintain a lifestyle they can enjoy. 

Ready to start your adventure as a travel nurse? Connect with us today.