How To Get A UN Job as A Nurse (Complete Guide)

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Working for the United Nations can be a fantastic career. If you’re a nurse and want to join the UN, there are a huge range of jobs across many UN agencies for qualified nurses.  

We’ve put together this full guide on how to get a job in the UN as a nurse. It includes which UN agencies often recruit nurses, the qualifications you are likely to need, the types of roles the UN has for nurses and how to apply.

United Nations Agencies Recruiting Nurses

The first step to getting a job with the United Nations as a nurse is to understand which UN agencies hire for nursing positions. The UN is enormous, with five leading organisations including the General Assembly and Security Council and 15 agencies. There are a huge range of roles for nurses within the UN, but knowing which parts of the UN to target is crucial to securing a job.

The main United Nations agencies that recruit nurses are:

  • World Health Organisation
  • UNFPA – United Nations Population Fund
  • UN High Commission for Refugees
  • UNICEF – UN’s children’s agency
  • World Food Programme
  • International Organisation for Migration
  • UN Volunteers

This is definitely not a complete list UN agencies that hire nurses, but these are definitely the ones to look to first. Let’s take a quick look at each one to understand the wider UN structure in relation to nursing.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is the UN agency specialising in public health. The WHO’s mandate covers improving global health, researching and monitoring public health risks, responding to health emergencies and promoting health and wellbeing around the world.

Nurses looking to join the United Nations will find a wide range of roles within the WHO. From front-line health work responding to cries such as Ebola and Covid-19, to working with health ministries in developing countries; to completing research on global health; the WHO is one of the main United Nations agencies to target if you’re looking to work in the UN as a nurse.

UNFPA – the UN Population Fund is the UN agency responsible for improving reproductive and maternal health globally. Their projects cover working on national healthcare strategies, improving access to birth control, providing information on sexual and reproductive health, advocating against child marriage and fighting gender-based violence and female genital mutilation.

If you’re looking to work in the UN as a nurse there are a wide range of jobs within UNFPA. The agency works directly with governments as well as through local partners and coordinates with other UN agencies. UNFPA has roles for nurses in management, healthcare, advocacy, research and programming.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees is the UN’s refugee agency. UNHCR works with forcibly displaced people, IDPs and stateless people to provide services, assist with repatriation and advocate for their rights.

UNHCR has a wide range of jobs that are open to nurses. They also have projects they fund implemented by local partner organisations that recruit qualified nurses. Although UNHCR’s mandate is not strictly health related, there are opportunities to work on refugee health projects with UNHCR.

UNICEF is the United Nations Children’s fund. They are responsible for international development and humanitarian aid to children around the world. UNICEF’s work includes child healthcare and immunizations, child and mother HIV programmes, maternal and childhood nutrition, education, water and sanitation and emergency relief.

If you’re looking for nursing jobs within the United Nations then targeting UNICEF is a must. They have a huge range of projects that require qualified nurses. Although nurses specialising in paediatrics may have an advantage, there are many roles within UNICEF for nurses wanting positions within the United Nations.

The World Food Programme (WFP) focuses on tackling world hunger and improving food security in poorer countries. Through direct provision of aid and working through local partners, WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian organisation.

WFP may not be the UN agency recruiting the most nurses, however their focus on nutrition, including childhood nutrition, and education means there are some positions suited to qualified nurses. Definitely review job postings at WFP if you’re wanting to work as a nurse within the UN.

The International Organisation of Migration (IOM) is the main inter-governmental organisation providing advice and assistance to governments and migrates. It joined the United Nations in 2016. IOM’s programmes aim to ensure orderly, humane and managed migration globally.

IOM has many projects related to migrants, including migrant’s health. They also work through local partner organisations providing services to people on the move. Be sure to explore jobs at IOM that are open to nurses if you are looking for a UN job.

UN Volunteers is also a good place to look for nursing positions within the United Nations. They deploy short-term volunteer staff into UN projects across all UN agencies. Most UN Volunteer positions require a level of professional experience and qualifications and there are often open positions for nurses.

Humanitarian Health Online Courses

If you want to become a nurse with the United Nations, completing an online course can be a great addition to your CV. We think the Emory University course on Health in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies is one of the best. It covers the key concepts of healthcare in humanitarian settings. Follow the link to the course’s page.

We also highly recommend the University of Copenhagen’s online short course in Non-Communicable Diseases in Humanitarian Settings. It only takes around 15 hours to complete, and we think it’s ideal for those wanting to become a nurse with the UN. Click the link to find out more.

Another online course we recommend for those looking to work as a nurse for the UN is the Manchester University Global Health and Humanitarianism course. It’s a fantastic overview of both the theory and practice of humanitarian aid and public health. The link is to the course’s page with more information.

Qualifications Needed to Be A UN Nurse

To get a job in the United Nations as a nurse there are two main steps of qualifications you will need to complete. The first is to become formally qualified as a nurse.

In most countries, nurses need to complete a degree, or certified course, in order to be able to practice medicine. Many countries also require a number of years of professional experience before nurses are fully qualified. In order to join the UN as a nurse, you will need to be fully qualified including both the educational and work experience parts of nursing school.

UN jobs are highly competitive. Alongside this, any UN nursing job will require you to apply your medical knowledge to the role. For these two reasons, it is not advisable to apply for nursing positions within the UN if you aren’t fully qualified yet.

Sadly, the United Nations will not fund your training as a nurse or employ you in nursing roles whilst you complete your qualifications.

The second important step in gaining the right qualifications to work in the UN as a nurse is to gain the specialized skills and experiences United Nations roles require. Many jobs within the UN need knowledge of technical areas related to humanitarian and development issues. You are likely to need to gain knowledge in these areas on-top of your formal nursing qualifications to join the UN.

Some examples of the types of technical areas UN nursing roles are likely to require include humanitarian aid, global health, sexual and reproductive health, medical project management, HIV/aids, pandemic responses, childhood nutrition and health education.

There are a huge range of specialised areas that the UN hires nurses for. Choosing are specific area that the UN works on and then doing trainings related to that will help you secure a role.

Deciding which UN agency you want to work for will also help you know which technical areas you should do additional trainings in on-top of your formal nursing qualifications.

Much of the knowledge and skills needed in addition to formal nursing training can be gained through online and short courses. Volunteer placements may also help you gain relevant experience.

United Nations Nursing Roles

There are many types of jobs that nurses can take within the United Nations. Many UN agencies will have specific roles they require medically trained staff for.

The types of jobs the United Nations usually recruits nurses for can be broken down roughly into five categories – management, frontline medical staff, advocacy, working for or with partner organisations and capacity building. Let’s go over each one.

UN nursing roles in management positions generally cover health project management, including managing teams, monitoring finances, developing strategies and ensuring quality implementation. For projects with a health focus many UN agencies will recruit someone medically qualified. There are a huge range of management roles for nurses across the United Nations.

The United Nations runs many front-line health projects around the world. There are jobs on these projects for nurses. These roles are medical jobs directly providing or overseeing the provision of healthcare to people in need, as opposed to project management roles. These types of UN jobs can be a good stepping stone from working as a nurse in your home country to a management position within the UN.

The United Nations is major campaigning and advocacy organisation. UN agencies run international campaigns on a huge range of issues including many public health messages. There are positions for qualified nurses within these campaigns so if working on advocacy and creating long-term systemic change is your aim target these jobs.

Many of the projects the UN runs are implemented by international NGOs or local partner organisations. Although jobs on these projects are not within the United Nations, if you are looking to work as a nurse on a UN humanitarian aid or development project securing a role on a UN funded project should be your aim. These jobs can also be good stepping stones into United Nations jobs.

Finally, the United Nations does a lot work directly with governments and civil society organisations. The aims of these projects are to increase the capacity and help improve responses to challenges in developing countries. The United Nations often recruits trained medical staff, such as nurses, to work on projects focusing on improving the capacity of health ministries, medical facilities and staff and medical NGOs across the developing world.

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Applying for United Nations Nursing Jobs

UN recruitment can be complex. However, it is important to understand the different types of UN positions as there are many ways for you to secure a job within the United Nations as nurse.

Jobs within the UN are generally divided into two types – G, or ‘general’ positions, and P, or ‘professional’ positions. The naming is quite unfortunate as there’s really nothing less professional about the general roles!

The main difference between G and P positions within the UN is how and where they are recruited.

G positions are only recruited locally. This means you can only work a G role if you are from the country where the UN project is being implemented.

‘Professional’, or P jobs within the UN are international jobs. This is where staff are recruited as expats to work on UN projects. Often holders of P jobs will move between different UN project sites.

There are also D level roles within the UN that are more senior than P level jobs.

For G, P and D jobs, each level is given a number which relates to the amount of experience needed to do the job. This why you hear about UN roles as P-4, or G-5.

Although some people will tell you a P roles are more coveted within the UN, it is possible to be senior within your home country holding a G role. P jobs come with a slight increase in prestige as they mean you’re deployed abroad for the UN, but this really depends on the type of job and career within the UN you want.

When looking to join the United Nations as nurse, which types of UN positions you apply for will depend on your qualifications and experience. Generally, if you are early in your career, you may be best to target G roles within your home country. If you have more experience, especially working as a nurse on humanitarian and development projects outside of the United Nations, you may be able to target P jobs.

You are best to review all the open positions within the UN and see which job criteria meet your current nursing skills and experiences.

As well as ‘General’ and ‘Professional’ positions, the United Nations also recruits a huge number of consultants. UN consultancies are at all levels and cover a huge range of positions. Be sure to explore open consultancy recruitments that require medical knowledge if you’re looking to join the UN as a nurse.

Another proven route into the UN is through internships and volunteer postings. Although most UN internships are aimed at recent graduates and can focus less on technical roles, if you have recently graduated from nursing school look out for open UN internships positions.

Lastly, a great way to enter the UN is through UN volunteers. These are short-to-medium term volunteer postings within UN projects. UN Volunteers specifically look for people with professional experience outside of the United Nations and many of the postings require specific technical skills. Definitely explore open positions with UN volunteers that require medical training. This can be a good first step into working in the United Nations as nurse.

If you want to learn more about the how to become a nurse with the United Nations, check-out our list of the top humanitarian health online courses here.


Duncan is the founder of Humanitarian Careers. With over ten years experience in the aid industry across fifteen countries, Duncan set-up Humanitarian Careers to help people launch their own career in international aid.