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Lessons learned and advice from Vietnam war nurses: a qualitative study


Elizabeth A. Scannell-Desch,
Division of Nursing,
Mount Saint Mary College,
NY 12550,


Aim.  The aim of this paper is to describe guidance for nurses today from the lessons learned by nurses who served in the Vietnam War.

Background.  There is little research focusing on nurses’ experiences in the Vietnam War. Lessons learned and subsequent advice from nurses who served in Vietnam may be helpful to those serving in current and future wars.

Methods.  A Husserlian phenomenological approach was taken, using interviews with a purposive sample of Registered Nurses who were female, and had served in the United States of America armed forces in Vietnam during the war.

Findings.  Seven theme clusters described the lesson learned and guidance offered by the Vietnam War nurses: advice about journaling, training, caring for yourself, use of support systems, talking about your experiences, understanding the mission, and lack of preparation for war.

Conclusions.  Much can be learned from the lessons learned and advice given by Vietnam War nurses. These lessons stress that nurses need to take a pro-active role in preparing themselves for deployment to a war zone, and that institutional training for war needs to be intensive and realistic. The environmental, cultural, technological, clinical and psychosocial demands of war nursing need to be comprehensively addressed before nurses deploy to a war.