I saw in the news recently that some nurses are trying to create a national organization that could mobilize volunteer nurses quickly if a disaster occurred. I'd love to sign up-but would I be abandoning my regular patients and risking legal problems if I left on short notice to help at a disaster site? I also worry that I'd have fewer job opportunities if employers knew I'd take an abrupt leave in the case of a disaster.-W.T., MASS.
You'd be wise to discuss your interest in the disaster program with your employer before you sign up. You may be pleased to find that your employer supports your desire to help. Your employee handbook probably spells out your obligations at your present job. Read it to see if you can leave on short notice and return to your job after disaster work; then you can make an informed decision about joining the volunteer program.
Another caution is to make sure you have your own professional liability insurance coverage for your volunteer nursing. This activity would fall outside the scope of your employment, so your employer's insurance wouldn't cover it. Maybe the disaster planning group provides liability coverage-if it does, get a copy of the policy to make sure you're adequately protected. If you already have a personal professional liability insurance policy, contact your insurer to verify that it would cover this type of volunteer activity.
Finally, you must be clear about the issue of practicing nursing in a state where you aren't licensed before you fly off to help.
The nurses who are organizing the volunteer effort have probably anticipated all these concerns. Ask questions and gather information now, not during a crisis.