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Volunteer Story Global

From the Eyes of Our Volunteers: International Nurses Day

Volunteer nurse Kristi Loveridge during a 2016 medical mission in Puebla, Mexico. Photo: Jasmin Shah.

Our promise of improving health and dignity during the COVID-19 pandemic endures. We're helping front-line health workers stay safe, nourished and empowered to better serve their patients by providing life-saving supplies and equipment, as well as remote training to bolster their response. We’re also providing nutritional assistance, hygiene kits and virtual health services to support people and their health needs so they can thrive. If you can, when you can, help us keep our promise to care for children and create hope for tomorrow.

It takes a devotion like no other to pursue a career in the health care field. 

Medical professionals dedicate years of study and handwork to ensure that they can provide the best care to patients in a variety of different areas. 

Medical systems around the world were pushed to the limits with the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our world fought against a virus that, only a year ago, we knew very little about. 

With more than 6,000 active medical volunteers, Operation Smile is one of the world’s largest volunteer-based nonprofits. Out of the 51 volunteer positions on a typical Operation Smile medical mission, 19 positions are filled by nurses. 

While nurses represent roughly 36 percent of our medical volunteers, there are even more nurses among the many medical professionals fighting on the front lines of the pandemic.  

To honor the men and women who donate their time and expertise, we’re celebrating International Nurses Day and recognizing how grateful we are to work with such passionate, talented nurses who are committed to caring for patients in their local communities as well as patients around the world. 

Volunteer operating room nurse Camille Pond with a child during screening for a 2006 Operation Smile medical mission in Bangladesh. Photo: Marc Ascher.

Celebrated around the world on May 12, International Nurses Day commemorates the achievements of the nursing profession on the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth.

Florence was a nurse and pioneer for proper patient care who influenced 19th- and 20th-century policies around the need for safe, high-quality nursing and medical care. 

Over the last year, health and care services were forced into an abrupt and drastic transformation in order to successfully mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and continue to provide the highest levels of care to patients in hospitals, doctor’s offices and other facilities around the world. 

We want to highlight nurses who regularly serve their community and go above and beyond to provide care in other countries as an Operation Smile medical volunteer. 

Nurses are always on the front lines, especially during a major pandemic.

Photo courtesy of Victoria Leal.

Nothing could have prepared Victoria Leal and her fellow nurses for the changes they would endure last year as their floor in a Florida hospital transitioned into a COVID-19 intensive care unit in less than 24 hours. 

“I told the other nurses, ‘Don’t go to work for a check. You go to take care of the patient and to be motivated with the results.’ I think that with this pandemic, nurses feel or think that they need to be better nurses,” Victoria said. 

Victoria has been on 24 missions with Operation Smile. But in 2020, she used her knowledge and skillset gained from overseas trips to serve and care for patients affected by COVID-19. 

She credits her experience with Operation Smile for her resilience. 

“It teaches you to have more of an imagination to create something to survive, to protect yourself or to work with a patient because we learn from those nurses who work with such limitations. They made me more compassionate,” Victoria explained. 

The shortage of personal protective equipment is something that no nurse or medical professional ever expected to experience when, in the past, so many of these materials in the U.S. were often thrown away after one use. 

Volunteer nurse and clinical coordinator Doreenlove Serwah of Ghana during Operation Smile's first local medical mission in Koforidua in 2018. Photo: Zute Lightfoot.

But the virus impacted health care workers, hospitals and communities on a global scale.

And the challenges brought about by the pandemic in low- and middle-income were even more devastating. 

As a nurse in a resource-limited country like Ghana, Doreenlove Serwah also faced the COVID-19 pandemic. She provides life-saving care to patients as well as educating her team on the necessary safety protocols essential to handle the virus.

“The pandemic and arising issues make it very apparent the role nurses play,” said Doreenlove. “We constitute a large workforce; dare I say the largest proportion in the health sector. We tend to have more interaction time with our patients, and this enables them to gain our trust and communicate more openly with us, allowing for us to counsel, educate and care for them. Our enhanced contact time and skills also allow us to make valuable observations and contributions to their health care planning.”

Volunteer nurse Nabil Sadoq comforts a patient during screening at a 2019 Operation Smile Morocco medical mission in Agadir. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Like so many other health care workers around the world, nurse Nabil Sadoq of Morocco volunteered to work on the front line in his hospital’s COVID-19 response unit despite the risks and challenges he would undoubtedly face.

“The first thing we learn from Operation Smile is the volunteerism. In my hospital, I was one of the first volunteers who chose to work at the COVID-19 unit,” Nabil said. “Like all Operation Smile missions, in which the objective is to create smiles, it’s the same principle that I use with COVID-19 patients, to reassure them and doing the best to see the smiles on their faces. I started working in the COVID-19 unit in the same way as we worked in the Operation Smile missions. It helps us to reduce stress despite the workload.”

The impact of the coronavirus varies from country to country, but the heroism that nurses like Victoria, Doreenlove, Nabil and all others have is universal. 

We are grateful for the sacrifices that they make each day when they go into work and are overjoyed that they choose to spend their spare time volunteering with Operation Smile. 

Join us as we celebrate International Nurses Day, not only today but every day, because without our medical volunteers, Operation Smile would not exist.

Help us to continue keeping our promise to patients amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Your support today means we can help patients through these uncertain times and provide them with the care and surgery they deserve when it's safe to resume our work.

Volunteer nurse Kathy Majette during a 2008 Operation Smile Brazil medical mission. Photo: Marc Ascher.


It takes as little as $240 and as few as 45 minutes to provide life-changing surgery and a bright, beautiful new smile to a waiting child.