What is an American Red Cross Nurse? (And How Do I Become One?)

What is an American Red Cross Nurse? (And How Do I Become One?)
American Red Cross nurse wears many hats. Red cape optional. Image from Unsplash
Hannah Grabenstein profile
Hannah Grabenstein December 20, 2019

Community health and blood drives are at the foundation of Red Cross medical care—but so is hands-on support during national disasters and tragedy. A brave American Red Cross nurse wears many hats. Red cape optional.

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If you watch television news, you’ve probably seen intrepid American Red Cross nurses in action. Whether responding to the destruction caused by 2012 superstorm Sandy, the devastating 2018 wildfires in California, or some other disaster, American Red Cross nurses are on the scene providing medical care and general relief. Less glamorously—but just as heroically—they staff the blood drives that collect donations from 6.8 million Americans each year.

The American Red Cross is a nearly 140-year-old national, non-governmental organization (NGO) that provides disaster relief and aid in the United States and around the world. It supports a national blood donation network, manages disaster preparedness plans in vulnerable areas, and runs first-aid certification programs and other community-health training programs.

While some nurses for the American Red Cross are employees, many are volunteers. In fact, 90 percent of the organization’s work is performed by volunteers. If becoming a full-time American Red Cross nurse turns out to be too big a commitment for you, volunteering is an option worth considering.

When you become a Red Cross nurse, you’ll have the opportunity to excel at fast-paced work, disaster relief, teach life-saving courses, and help manage blood drives and other critical resources. In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • Why become an American Red Cross nurse?
  • The duties and responsibilities of an American Red Cross nurse
  • The steps to becoming an American Red Cross nurse
  • American Red Cross registered nurse salary
  • Is becoming a Red Cross nurse for you?

Why become an American Red Cross nurse?

What does the American Red Cross do?

The American Red Cross plays a critical role in many areas of disaster relief, both in the U.S. and abroad. It provides more than 40 percent of donated blood across the country in critical emergency situations. According to its federal charter, the U.S. government delegates specific responsibilities to this non-governmental organization, including:

  • Protecting victims of conflict according to the provisions of the Geneva Convention
  • Providing family communications and support to the military
  • Aiding in domestic and international disaster relief
  • Offering first aid training, and other health and safety education

Who should become an American Red Cross nurse?

20,000 paid and volunteer nurses serve the Red Cross. Nurses and volunteers provide a wide variety of functions, and there’s no one-size-fits-all description for an employee. In job postings for nurses, the Red Cross lists qualifications like:

  • Registered nurse license (RN/LPN)
  • Customer service experience
  • Verbal communication and public relations skills
  • A current valid driver’s license and good driving record
  • The physical ability to assist blood donors having adverse reactions
  • Flexibility to work long, irregular hours

Those who want to volunteer on the front lines of disaster relief can join Disaster Action Teams. According to the organization, essential skills include:

  • Being team-oriented
  • Speaking multiple languages
  • Being comfortable with ambiguity
  • Having empathy and compassion
  • Having disaster response experience
  • Remaining calm and patient during stressful situations

Responsibilities of an American Red Cross nurse

The American Red Cross runs so many programs and performs so many functions, nurses have a wide variety of duties and responsibilities.

What does an American Red Cross nurse do?

While nurses in other specializations are often involved in long-term care, many Red Cross are focused on shorter-term projects like community health and blood drives. American Red Cross nurses and phlebotomists facilitate blood drives and donation events across the nation. Nurses help draw blood according to all modern collection standards, while charge nurses may help supervise employees and determine that all paperwork and procedures are correctly followed.

Other responsibilities of Red Cross nurses include:

  • Supporting efforts in global disasters by administering aid to suffering victims
  • Helping advocate for individuals in at-risk and remote communities
  • Conducting community outreach on health issues, such as the need for blood donations or the spread of measles and rubella
  • Teaching certified nurse assistant training sessions
  • Assessing individuals for health needs and providing healthcare to those whose needs are disaster-related or disaster-aggravated

Steps to becoming an American Red Cross nurse

The first step to joining the American Red Cross as a nurse is to get a nursing degree, followed by obtaining a nursing license in your state. Many Red Cross positions have specific requirements for both registered nurses and licensed practical nurses.

If you’re looking at a registered nursing position within the Red Cross, you’ll need to pass the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN) after you’ve completed your associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN), and apply for your state RN license. Note that more employers are requiring RNs to hold a BSN in states where an ADN is sufficient for licensure.

If you don’t yet have your nursing degree or license, the Red Cross offers many health-related volunteer positions within the organization in which you can start to get a feel for the career. Reach out to your local Red Cross chapter to see where they have needs.

American Red Cross registered nurse salary

According to Payscale, nurses at the American Red Cross are paid an average of $59,000 per year. The cost of living will cause fluctuation in nursing positions in different states. Red Cross employees are eligible for benefits like health care coverage, commuter benefits, a 401(k) plan, and paid vacation time. Volunteers are, of course, unpaid (that’s the “volunteer” part of being a volunteer).

Is becoming a Red Cross nurse for you?

Like many nurses across the country, American Red Cross nurses may feel under-appreciated or overworked, but the services they provide—from soothing queasy blood donors to aiding natural disaster victims—are critical and help save lives. You may still be pondering whether to become a nurse at all or maybe you’ve just begun your career and are still figuring out a nursing specialty. Either way, keeping the Red Cross on your career radar is a good move.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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Categorized as: MedicineNursing & Healthcare