By: Diane Toomey

historic nursing

We’re very proud of our heritage at the American Red Cross. Founded by Clara Barton in 1881, her individual contributions during the Civil War pre-date the role we now call nursing, but Clara’s work was exactly that. She learned how to store and distribute medical items, and offered personal support to the soldiers in hopes of keeping their spirits up. Clara knew she was needed on the battlefield, caring for those who were suffering.

Fast forward to modern times, nurses at the American Red Cross represent all stages of their careers, from students and active medical professionals, to veterans who continue their life’s work through volunteering.

Retired Nurses collage

Barb Gumbert, Norma Smith and Bill Szabo, are three Northwest Region volunteers who retired from professional nursing roles, but still yearn to help others.  Working with the American Red Cross is a means to that end, giving them the ability to maintain a nursing license while offering critical services to the individuals we serve.

“It is rewarding,” said Barb Gumbert. “Helping people is amazing and you can get back to the basics of nursing, which is caring for their emotions, their physical being and their psyche and helping on this smaller scale feels even grander.”

Bill Szabo volunteers as a Lead Nurse in Bellingham area. Being part of a Disaster Action Team (DAT) gives him lots of opportunity to support his community, something he didn’t want to lose after retiring.  He said he “enjoys the sense of purpose that volunteering grants” him.

Norma Smith agrees. “Nurses don’t retire well, we are trained to work anywhere,” she said. Though retired and 85 years old, Norma still teaches preparedness classes, works in shelters and drove over 9,000 miles for Red Cross volunteering last year!

Displaced victims of disasters often lose everything, including medical prescriptions, medical devices, even dentures. That’s another critical area where volunteer nurses come in, helping recover essential, sometimes life-threatening items.

“Nurses are critical to the quality of our service,” said Meghan O’Hara, Northwest Regional Disaster Officer. “Our mandate is to serve the immediate needs of a community following a disaster and nurses lead our efforts towards improved functional access and disability understanding for every individual in our care.”

For more information about how to volunteer with the Red Cross as a nurse or any number of specialties, go to:

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