• competence;
  • deployment;
  • military nursing;
  • nursing

Aims and objectives

To explore how peacetime employment of military nurses in the UK National Health Service Medical Defence Hospital Units prepares them to be competent to practise in their role on deployment.


Military secondary care nurses are employed within UK National Health Service Trusts to gain clinical experience that will be relevant to their military nursing role.


A two-stage grounded theory study using mixed methods: postal questionnaire survey and in-depth interviews.


In stage one a postal questionnaire was distributed to all serving military nurses. Stage two involved 12 semi-structured interviews. The data from both parts of the study were analysed using grounded theory.


Four categories and one core category were identified, which suggested that participants did not feel fully prepared for deployment. Their feelings of preparedness increased with deployment experience and decreased when the nature of injuries seen on deployment changed. Respondents argued that even when unprepared, they did not feel incompetent. The findings suggest that the peacetime clinical experience gained in the National Health Service did not always develop the necessary competencies to carry out roles as military nurses on deployment. This study highlights the unique role of military nurses. We discuss these findings in the light of the literature on competency and expertise.


The military nurses in this study did not feel fully prepared for deployed operations. We propose a new model for how military nurses could gain relevant experience from their National Health Service placements.

Relevance to clinical practice

National Health Service clinical placements need to be reassessed regularly to ensure that they are meeting military nurses' clinical requirements. Experiences of nurses returning from deployment could be shared and used as a basis for reflection and learning within National Health Service Trusts and also inform decisions regarding the appropriateness of clinical placements for qualified military nurses.