© Gabriele François Casini/MSF
An MSF worker on a ship wearing a life jacket holds a small baby.
21 Oct 16 14 Nov 16

A career as an MSF Nurse

We look for nurses who are ready to handle whatever life in the field throws at them. It takes at least a few years of experience working as a nurse in the UK and plenty of training and travel to be ready for a position with MSF. Below is a step by step guide for achieving the sort of experience we look for. 

Step 1: Get at least 2 years of experience as a Nurse in the UK

MSF looks for nurses that have at least 2 years of nursing experience in the UK, preferably in areas that are relevant to MSF’s work, such as HIV/TB, Neonatology, Operation Theatre nursing or nutrition. This is because you will definitely have a higher level of responsibility in the field that you would have in the UK, and you need to be ready to handle that. You’ll be heading a department, managing a big team, and often caring for patients with complex problems that you probably would have never dealt with before.

Step 2: Do a placement in a developing country

Life in the field with MSF can be tough, and it can be basic. We need to know that you can manage living in very basic conditions before sending you out to an MSF project, both for you and for the team you’ll be working with. Whether it be managing to get the MSF office at the airport if you can’t find a car to meet you, or managing to communicate with people who can’t speak your language when out in the community, the skills you will learn from travelling and working in a developing country are vital to working with MSF.

Step 3: Do Diploma in Tropical Nursing

Most MSF placements are in tropical countries, where the common issues are malaria, dengue and parasitical infections. MSF also specialises in projects that care for patients with Neglected Tropical Diseases such as Ebola and Kala Azar, so we need to know that you have the knowledge and skills to care for people affected by these issues before you go out on mission.

Step 4: Apply to MSF

Applying to MSF is a big decision. You need to have 9-12 months free, and really be sure that you are ready to go on mission, and to go where you are needed. The success of your application depends on your skills and how many spaces we have left in our pool. We are always looking for highly skilled people, but if we have a lot of nurses ready to go on mission, we may not be able to accept you even if you satisfy the basic requirements. This is when skills such as French or Arabic language make the difference between a successful application and one that is not.

Step 5: Go on mission

As a ‘first missioner’ you will be sent to a project where you can learn about your role and how MSF works in the field in a relatively secure and stable environment- we rarely send a first-missioner to an emergency because we estimate that you will need 2-3 months to settle into your role. Usually, you will be sent to a team where there are experienced MSF nurses and/or doctors who can support you and help you build your ‘field skills’!

After your first mission

Option 1: After 3-4 missions, apply as a Medical Team Leader

A Medical Team Leader in a project is the person who plans and manages all the medical activities of the project. They work closely with the Project Coordinator as the ‘technical advisor’ for all medical matters in the project, line-managing all medical staff in the project, both national and international.

Option 2: After a few missions, apply as a Medical Coordinator

A Medical Coordinator sits in the capital of a country, and provides support to all projects in the country. They also coordinate any ‘national’ medical needs, such as getting customs clearance to fly medication into the country, or evacuating a sick member of staff to a nearby country for medical treatment.

Option 3: After 3-4 missions, apply as a Project Coordinator

A Project Coordinator is in charge of developing the strategy for a project and managing it, by coordinating all the different departments of the project team to reach it\s objectives and by coordinating MSF’s activities with those of other organisations.

Option 4: After a few missions, apply as a Deputy Head of Mission

A Deputy Head of Mission works with the Head of Mission to support all the projects in the country, represent MSF at a national Level and make national level decisions.

Option 5: After a few missions, apply as a Head of Mission

A Head of Mission is the Country Director for an MSF mission. They make the final decisions of MSFs strategy in the country, both with regards to medical care and humanitarian affairs, as well as providing support to all of the projects in the country.