Purpose: The purpose of this study is to describe the lived experience of U.S. military nurses who served in Iraq or Afghanistan during the war years 2003 to 2009, and life after returning from war.
Methods: Colaizzi's phenomenological method guided discovery. This method includes elements of both descriptive and interpretive phenomenology. The sample consisted of 37 military nurses who served in the Army, Navy, or Air Force in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. Four data-generating questions guided the interview process. Most interviews were face-to-face and conducted in naturalistic settings chosen by the participants. Several interviews were conducted telephonically due to geographic constraints. Data analysis followed Colaizzi's method of analysis. Seven themes emerged from the data, including “deploying to war;”“remembrance of war: most chaotic scene;”“nurses in harm's way: more than I bargained for;”“kinship and bonding: my military family;”“my war stress: I'm a different person now;”“professional growth: expanding my skills;” and “listen to me: advice to deploying nurses.” Analysis continued until data saturation was achieved.
Results: Results indicated that wartime deployment was a difficult challenge, lessons learned should be shared with nurses deploying in future years, homecoming was more difficult than most nurses anticipated, and reintegration after coming home takes time and effort.
Conclusions: Nursing in war is a unique experience regardless of education, preparation and training. There are a myriad of variables that enter into the experience and effect outcomes, both personal and professional.
Clinical Relevance: Wartime nursing is a reality in the current clinical practice arena. War takes its toll on everyone involved, including the caregivers. Nurses returning from war can provide valuable insights to those that follow.