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Keywords:

  • military nursing;
  • oral history;
  • wartime nursing;
  • Australian Army nurses

The wartime experience of Australian Army nurses in Vietnam, 1967–1971

Aims. To provide a synthesis of the experience of nursing in the Vietnam War.

Rationale. War and nursing are linked unequivocally. As battles have raged over the centuries, nurses have attended the ill and wounded soldiers, nursing them back to health or into death and the study of this phenomenon forms a significant part of Australia’s nursing history. However, a review of the Australian scholarly nursing and military history literature revealed that the experiences of Australian nurses in the Vietnam War has not been widely published. In an attempt to redress this gap in Australian nursing and military history, the aim of this study was to analyse the nature of the nursing work in the Vietnam War, and to increase awareness and understanding of the experience of nurses in the war within the nursing profession.

Methods. Using oral history interviews, this study investigated the nature of nursing work as experienced by 17 Australian Army nurses who served in the Australian Military Hospital in Vung Tau between 1967 and 1971.

Findings. The vast majority of the nursing sisters sent to Vietnam knew little about the type of work or the environment into which they were entering and were, therefore, clinically unprepared. It appeared that, by virtue of their being a nurse, it was an expectation that the nurses would adapt to the nature of their work in the war zone. However, this study also revealed that, although the nurses adapted professionally, their memories of their experiences have affected many personally.

Conclusions. This paper will increase current knowledge significantly regarding the phenomenon of nursing in the Vietnam War, enabling a greater understanding of the experience.