Dispatch from Germany: Red Cross Nurse Volunteers Fill the Gaps

Nursing
Red Cross volunteers allow LRMC nurses to increase the scope and duration of the nursing care they deliver.

Whenever a military family is stationed in a new place, military spouses find and adjust to new opportunities – new home, new friends, new jobs. But what happens when, as it often does in life, something doesn’t pan out? Three military wives found unexpected opportunities with the American Red Cross.

Lauren Purtell always admired her grandfather and great uncles who served in past wars. She started her own military life when, a few days before her wedding to a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, she found out they were moving to Germany.

“I am a registered nurse (RN) and was hoping to work in the hospital alongside my husband and his fellow soldiers as a civilian nurse; however, it would seem that those plans were not exactly going to work,” said Purtell.

When Purtell and her husband moved to Germany, the hospital was facing a hiring freeze. She was a brand new RN, just out of school, and quickly realized her lack of experience would be a hiring barrier. After talking to several people at the facility, she found there was really only one way to get the experience needed – the American Red Cross.

Daphne Blask has been a military spouse for 10 years. She moved to Germany with her husband last year for their first overseas assignment. Throughout her years as a military spouse, she volunteered for various causes and different organizations. However, it wasn’t until her move to Germany that she became a Red Cross volunteer.

“Originally I planned on volunteering with the Red Cross until I could find a permanent nursing position,” said Blask. “But after seeing the impact volunteers had on the military community, I decided to continue volunteering.”

Michelle Livingston was an active duty soldier and is now a spouse of an active duty service member, so she’s seen both sides and can easily relate to the patients she encounters as a volunteer. She also faced a tough choice when she moved to Germany and tried to find employment.

“Finding a nursing job was almost impossible. Nursing in German hospitals is different and you have to speak German, which I don't, so I have to work for the U.S. government. I was glad that volunteering with the Red Cross was an option. Nursing is such a perishable skill. If you don't use it, you lose it.”

RIPE FOR OPPORTUNITY Nursing careers weren’t going as planned for these three women. But the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) in Germany was able to add the women as three valuable assets to its operations.

LTC Kristen Vondruska, the Chief of Education at LRMC, explains “the Red Cross offers a method for career progression for nurses who have accompanied their military spouse to Germany. Job opportunities are few and far between for U.S. nurses while overseas.”

There are currently over 300 RNs at Landstuhl and over 40 RN volunteers.

“Because of the more stringent process that Red Cross volunteers in military treatment facilities go through, they are able to do some pretty amazing things, and in the cases of our RNs and other professional volunteers, they can volunteer in their full, certified capacity,” said Leah Barber, American Red Cross Station Manager at LRMC.

WHAT THEY DO Red Cross nurse volunteers at Landstuhl have stepped up in positions all across the facility.

“Soldiers have a permanent change of station frequently, and so do their spouses that work in the hospital,” Livingston explained, noting vacated positions leave gaps in the workload.

LRMC staff affirms volunteers fill a critical role. Vondruska explained, “Red Cross volunteers allow LRMC nurses to increase the scope and duration of the nursing care they deliver.

“Their generous donation of time and skill permit all nursing personnel time to practice the soft skills of nursing that we often don't have enough hours in the day to accomplish to our satisfaction. Activities like listening to veteran's war stories, playing make-believe with young children, heating up one more cup of coffee or finding an extra elusive pillow to prop up a tender limb can now be realized.”

Purtell has an almost full-time schedule in the Mother Baby Ward. She explains the Red Cross branch director, Leah Barber, works in cooperation with the officers in charge of the wards, allowing volunteer medical personal to do everything the hospital’s regularly employed staff counterparts are able to do.

“Which is such a blessing,” said Purtell, who wouldn’t be able to get that in-depth experience needed for a paid position without this arrangement.

While many people might consider volunteering as an extra-curricular activity, Blask was particularly struck by the valuable career opportunities afforded to her through volunteering. “Volunteering opens up many possibilities for military wives,” Blask explained.

Continued in Part 2.

Visit redcross.org to find out more about volunteer opportunities and how the Red Cross serves the military.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.

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