The Lived Experience of Women Military Nurses in Vietnam During the Vietnam War


  • Elizabeth A. Scannell-Desch

    Corresponding author
    1. Elizabeth A. Scannell-Desch, RN, MSN, PhD, Xi and Mu Epsilon, is a Colonel and is Command Nurse Executive, US Air Force Reserves, Pentagon, Washington, DC.
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  • This manuscript reflects the opinion of the author and not an official position of the US Air Force or the Department of Defense.

Col. Scannell-Desch, 49 Arell Court, Alexandria, VA 22304.


The lived experience of 24 military nurses during the Vietnam war is described in addition to common elements of their lives after returning from Vietnam. In-depth interviews generated data about personal and professional aspects of the lives of women nurses in the war zone. Data analysis incorporated the qualitative methods of Colaizzi, Lincoln and Guba, and Van Manen. Findings revealed that the nurses struggled with moral and ethical dilemmas of wartime nursing, felt out-of-place, and lacked privacy. The nurses described a deep and special bonding, and many found serving in Vietnam to be the most rewarding experience in their careers. The Vietnam War continues to have an effect on the lives of the nurses who served there. They balance their personal andprofessionalgrowth gleaned from this experience with the physical and emotional stresses experienced during the war and since the war. The findings of this study have implications for further research about nurses in Vietnam and nurses who have served in other wars.