Nursing Students and Their Role in Disaster in Saudi Arabia

Disasters occur on a regular basis across the globe and pose a significant threat to people’s life. The disasters may range from tsunamis to fire outbreaks. According to the World Health Organization, disaster refers to a severe interruption of the normal life of society resulting in heavy material, human, environmental and economic losses that surpass the capacity of the affected civilization to manage through its resources (Alim, Kawabata & Nakazawa, 2015). A majority of the disasters are hard to predict. However, for disasters such as hurricanes, volcanoes, and floods the health care personnel are alerted in advance to make the necessary preparations. The medical personnel must treat each kind of disaster independently. The medical schools require equipping nursing students with skill and abilities to deal with emergencies. Unfortunately, not many students have adequate skills to deal with different forms of disasters (Beaubien & Baker, 2004). It underscores the need to reevaluate the undergraduate degree curriculum to ensure that it equips students with skills in disaster preparedness. This paper will evaluate how the undergraduate degree prepares nursing students for their role in disaster in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the world.


A disaster may occur at any moment resulting in a severe civic health crisis. Meteorologists can anticipate disasters that occur as a result of adverse weather conditions and alert the health professionals to take necessary precautions. Other disasters like the stampede witnessed at Mecca, disease outbreaks and terrorist attacks are hard to anticipate. According to Chapman and Arbon (2008), the nurses must have the requisite skills to prepare for all forms of disasters regardless of the variations in inevitability. The nurses should have the capacity to shield the public from potential adverse effects that may arise as a result of a disaster.

Saudi Arabia encounters natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, and the outbreak of respiratory diseases among others. The disasters cause massive deaths in the country. Besides, they result in conditions that demand a quick public health rejoinder to mitigate adverse economic and health impacts (Hammad, Arbon, Gebbie & Hutton, 2012). Recently, the country experienced a catastrophe when a crane fell killing at least one hundred pilgrims at Mecca. Another incidence that signified the need for a speedy response was the stampede that happened at Mecca leaving over 700 pilgrims dead. The nursing professionals did not respond promptly to help those injured during the stampede (Alzahrani & Kyratsis, 2016). Apart from natural disasters, Saudi Arabia is prone to man-made catastrophes like terrorist attacks that target mosques and public places. These events call for disaster preparedness in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia does not appreciate the role of nursing students in responding to emergencies. As a result, the country has made little effort to ensure that medical training institutes equip nursing students with skills to handle disasters. As terrorists continue to advance technologically, the chances are high that they might venture into production of bioweapons (Bajow et al., 2015). It can be hard for military personnel to respond to a bioweapon attack. However, the nursing students and other health care professionals can play a significant role in ensuring that the assault does not cause severe damage. The nursing students can help to assess epidemiological patterns, therefore stopping further exposure. It underlines the reason Saudi Arabia requires preparing the undergraduate nursing students for their role in disaster response.

Literature Review

The World Wide Countries

The impacts of natural and man-made disasters are growing globally, and nursing students are likely to be called up to assist individuals affected by catastrophes. In this regard, people have questioned the level of disaster preparedness amid nursing students. Even though the Australian states have well-established emergency plans, there is the need for federal and state governments to review the existing strategies to enhance the degree of preparedness (Jennings-Sanders, Frisch & Wing, 2005). Moreover, Australia requires training nursing students in disaster preparedness. According to Kaplan, Connor, Ferranti, Holmes and Spencer (2012), a majority of the countries that are prone to terrorist attacks like Yemen and Syria do not offer compulsory disaster preparedness training to health care personnel including students. Researchers claim that training is an integral component of disaster preparedness. No hospital can manage to serve a big number of casualties in the event of a catastrophe (Olivia, Claudia & Yuen, 2008). In Australia, health care facilities, as well as medical professionals, cannot cope with a huge number of severely injured patients. The country does not have evidence-based competencies or practices in disaster management. The country does not equip nursing students with emergency management skills.

The United States is different from Australia. The state offers training in disaster preparedness. The National Students Nurses’ Association House of Delegates advised the American government to introduce disaster preparedness training in all nursing institutions. Additionally, the country has adopted a disaster preparedness curriculum for nursing undergraduate programs (Smith, 2007). The curriculum equips the undergraduate students with skills in critical thinking. Students are trained in how to apply a morally accepted framework to make judgments before, during, and after a catastrophe. Moreover, students are trained in how to prioritize and offer efficient services to victims, special groups and families affected by a disaster. The undergraduate program also equips nursing students with technical skills. The students learn how to administer intravenous fluid and offer first aid services to victims. As per Thobaity, Williams, and Plummer (2016), in the United States, nursing students acquire skills in decontamination processes, infection control, and management of emergency communication apparatus. Indeed, the United States has incorporated bioterrorism and disaster preparedness lessons in the nursing undergraduate degree curriculum. Nursing students are trained in triage procedures whose objective is “to provide care for the greatest number of victims with potential to survive the catastrophe and prevent contamination or injury of staff and patients” (Tillman, 2011, p. 406). Despite the training, the nurses still claim that they do not have confidence in dealing with patients in times of disasters.

According to Ulfat, Shaheen, Riaz and Said (2015), the world acknowledges that nurses deserve to have skills in emergency management. In spite of the Asian and Western nursing schools offering training in disaster preparedness, the training does not leverage contemporary research and competencies. China is notorious for natural disasters. Surprisingly, the country provides inadequate emergency preparedness training to undergraduate nursing students. The Sichuan earthquake demonstrated the need to equip undergraduate nursing students with emergency management skills (Yin, He, Arbon & Zhu, 2011). A team of nursing students dispatched from Third Military Medical University (TMMU) encountered challenges in offering basic life support services, infection management, and handling field triage.

Middle East Countries

Little is known about disaster preparedness amid the Middle East countries. A study conducted after the Bam earthquake found that a majority of the Middle East countries do not offer training in disaster management. The research found that undergraduate nursing students lack training in disaster relief. For instance, In Iran, “the education system of nursing undergraduate program is not fully developed” (Oztekin, Larson, Ugras & Yuksel, 2014, p. 96). Nursing students have limited skills in disaster planning. Moreover, they cannot handle bioterrorism disasters. In many Middle East countries, nurses acquire skills in emergency management through drills.

The Middle East countries like Jordan, Turkey, Yemen, Syria, Egypt and Israel record a high number of terrorist attacks. The attacks result in massive deaths and casualties. Many times, the hospitals are unable to serve the significant number of patients. Countries like Jordan appreciate the importance of offering training in disaster preparedness at the undergraduate degree level (Khalaileh, Bond & Alasad, 2012). The country trains the undergraduate nursing students in emergency preparedness and response. Nevertheless, not all the medical schools offer the training. Over 70% of the nurses in Jordan claim that they did not undertake training in disaster preparedness during the undergraduate program. The nurse acquired skills in disaster preparedness from institutional drills. The nurses admitted that they could not handle a catastrophe involving chemical or biological agents.

The government of Israel takes disaster preparedness seriously. The nursing students undertake a mandatory emergency management course. The country equips its undergraduate nursing students with skills in disaster prevention and management. In Israel, students go through dynamic, hands-on training that entails simulations. The nursing schools work in collaboration with the Israel Center for Medical Simulation. Students are trained in how to assist patients who suffer from traumatic injuries. Further, the students learn how to deal with people affected by chemical agents. The students use state-of-the-art computerized mannequins to acquire skills in how to treat varied conditions. Thobaity, Plummer, Innes & Copnell (2015) claim that the medical training institutions organize for table-top simulations that offer the students an opportunity to brainstorm and come up with ideas on how to handle different scenarios.

Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia suffers from multiple catastrophes that range from floods to terrorist attacks. The catastrophes have adverse effects on public health. In spite of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia witnessing numerous man-made and natural disasters, little has been done to equip the nursing students with skills to address the impacts of catastrophes. Abosuliman, Kumar, and Alam (2013) claim that only a few universities offer disaster management courses in the country. What is even worrying is that Saudi Arabia does not provide emergency training programs at nursing schools. A study shows that less than 17% of the medical schools have disaster management curriculum. Besides, “disaster management is taught as an accredited complimentary course integrated with related subjects like emergency medicine, surgery or general internal medicine” (Alamri, 2011, p. 313). The training is conducted during the last three years of study. Lack of experienced lecturers is cited as the main reason the medical schools do not offer training in disaster management.

A study of the undergraduate students in emergency medical service (EMS) found that they lacked the necessary expertise and knowledge to provide efficient services in the case of a catastrophe. The students showed poor to modest degrees of disaster preparedness. A majority of the students did not have the capacity to partake in emergency responses. A study by Alrazeeni (2015) found that the undergraduate degree offered in Saudi Arabia does not prepare nurse students for their role in disaster mitigation. Most students acquire skills in emergency management at the graduate level. Planning is critical to the success of the emergency response. Alzahrani and Kyratsis (2016) maintain that a well-established, clear, ordered and explicable plan facilitates the success of disaster response. In Saudi Arabia, undergraduate students are incapable of formulating an emergency response plan. The students do not participate in drills and training programs that entail disaster planning. Most nursing students rate their experience in disaster planning as below standard.

In Saudi Arabia, few medical schools offer practical training to undergraduate nursing students. As a result, the nursing students do not understand their expected duties, limitations, and authority in case of catastrophe. Moreover, many students do not know the equipment they require using to assist victims of a tragedy. According to Bajow et al. (2015), a majority of the undergraduate nursing students claim that they do not have skills in dealing with catastrophes that involve radiological and biological hazards. Many students agree that their level of disaster preparedness is wanting. As a result, they call for the medical schools to initiate drills that would help them acquire hands-on experience in emergency management.


Nurses play a vital role in disaster management. They are responsible for taking care of the injured patients. Unfortunately, most nurses do not have adequate skills in emergency response. Many countries do not prepare their undergraduate nursing students for their role in disaster management. Further, the countries do not have training programs for contingency planning. Research shows that countries that do not record a high number of accidents are reluctant to equip their undergraduate nursing students with skills in disaster management. In spite of the Middle East countries being vulnerable to terrorist attacks, they have done little to train their nurses. Globally, the nurses claim that they do not have confidence in dealing with patients in times of disasters. They cite inadequate or lack of training as the major setback that inhibits their capacity to respond to disasters.


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