Challenges of Being a Military Nurse

Last Updated/Verified: Jan 18, 2020

Deployment

Nurses who serve in the United States Nurse Corps make many sacrifices for their country. From long shifts and endless training, to leaving their families for months at a time to deploy or be temporarily assigned where they are needed. Although military nurses have a long history of deploying to combat and disaster areas, most branches have decreased the amount of time deployments last for nurses in war-torn areas due to the intensity of the work. Regardless of the time served, nurses are both healthcare provider and military officer with responsibilities to the troops and lives serving under their command.

Nurses who deploy to front-line centers and experience caring for combat trauma victims are forever changed both for the negative and the positive. Nurses report feeling sadness and depression after returning from such assignments, but also report a sense of pride in the ability to care for wounded service members, as they are providing work for a greater cause. Nurses who deploy to natural and man-made disaster areas report the same challenges, but more so the connection to the sense of loss for the community served.

Nurses who deploy to front-line centers and experience caring for combat trauma victims are forever changed both for the negative and the positive. Nurses report feeling sadness and depression after returning from such assignments, but also report a sense of pride in the ability to care for wounded service members, as they are providing work for a greater cause. Nurses who deploy to natural and man-made disaster areas report the same challenges, but more so the connection to the sense of loss for the community served.

Nurses serving outside of their immediate community of support often find deployment one of the most challenging, and yet rewarding, parts of their military service. Connecting deployed nurses with behavioral health services is a vital part of working through the emotions of depression, anger, or numbness that can occur after witnessing traumatic events. The U.S. military has made strides towards improving the psychological strength and resilience to match the physical demands of serving.

Another challenge with deploying as a nurse with the Nurse Corps is time away from family, friends, and the greater support network. In this age of technology, it is possible now more than ever to remain connected through video chat and messaging. While there are many positive aspects of staying connected, a challenge with this is the nurse may feel responsible to still "manage" the household matters while deployed on a mission, which requires his or her full attention. Families should discuss how this information will be handled prior to the deployment to ease any additional stress this may cause the nurse and their family.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Much has been studied and written regarding the psychological effects of war on our service men and women. The term PTSD refers to a clinical diagnosis for people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, and since nurses have been at the bedside of the wounded since the Crimean War, it is reasonable to expect that nurses may also suffer from this emotional affliction. PTSD can manifest itself in several ways, such as nightmares or flashbacks where the trauma is being relived, depression and avoidance of people or situations, or irritability. PTSD can occur directly after an event or emerge many years later without warning.

Historically, there has been a negative stereotype with psychological disorders for those serving in the military. Service members have been reluctant to come forward about their PTSD symptoms for fear of being shamed, or worse, having their career paths altered because of a perceived emotional instability. The U.S. military and Veterans Administration is striving to change the stigma around behavioral health issues to facilitate help and resources for those suffering with PTSD symptoms. Nurses should take time to get the mental health they need after witnessing traumatic events.

Risk of Injury

There is an inherent risk of injury when serving in the U.S. military. In addition to the occupational risk of injury that comes with being a nurse, Nurse Corps challenges include additional training and skills that are unique to military life. Nurses are expected to condition to a level of being physically fit to meet the demands of the military career and injuries can occur. Although very few nurses have been killed in action throughout the military's long history, a simple injury can end a career.

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