Nurses face to face with war trauma

Many people know or have known the perils of war. Some of our faculty, and current and former students have either served in previous wartime units or are currently deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Wartime nursing is similar in many ways to our modern day trauma and emergency room situations. Military nurses work and live among us every day, during peacetime and wartime. Their experiences continue to benefit our society for years to come.

The Iraqi conflict, as with previous wars, will result in injuries to the body and mind. Skilled medical care is essential, and the quality of that care can shape the future of affected military personnel. Military nurses are critical to these efforts.

Faculty experience
Mel Haberman, WSU College of Nursing associate dean for research and an Army Nurse Corps lieutenant colonel (retired), served as an Army staff nurse at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, during the Vietnam War.

“As a staff nurse in the U.S. Army’s Shock and Trauma Research Unit, we took care of several soldiers who were wounded in Vietnam and transported back to the States for medical care,” said Haberman. “We learned how to care for burn patients, treat shock and trauma, conduct emergency surgery under less than ideal circumstances and conduct research on trauma related injuries.”

The ability to adapt principles to rapidly changing situations is the essence of critical thinking during a wartime situation, says Ed Gruber, a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel (retired) and WSU College of Nursing clinical professor and graduate program coordinator. Gruber was assigned to Bien Hoa Airbase from 1970 – 71 during the Vietnam War. “My duties included management of the nonprofessional staff, supervising the Limited Privileged Communication Program that contained about 20 heroin addicts and humanitarian missions to care for the Vietnamese who resided in villages near the base,” said Gruber.

Melody Rasmor, WSU Vancouver College of Nursing clinical assistant professor, knows firsthand how important experience and training can be in wartime situations. As an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel stationed in Italy during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, and now serving at Madigan Army Medical Center at Fort Lewis, Wash. in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Rasmor expressed a renewed spirit for her civilian and military nursing careers.

“The experience of being in these situations provides a different perspective to the world each time you’re involved,” said Rasmor. “The people that you meet and the lives that nurses touch, whether in the field or in the hospitals, is incredible. The real tests come when you are face to face with a fellow soldier who, at that moment, needs you more than anyone else in the world.”

Real-world learning
“Many, if not most, of the major advances in shock and trauma medicine in nursing have come from wartime experiences,” said Haberman. “I learned there is a psychological and a social aspect to every trauma related injury and I constantly use this knowledge in my teaching and research efforts.”

“My military nursing experience has been extremely useful in the classroom because I’m able to stress the prioritization and adaptation skills necessary to practice contemporary nursing care in a rapidly changing environment,” said Gruber.

“Many of my experiences will be relevant to our nursing students,” said Rasmor. “Our students need to know that their education and training can and does impact people at home and half a world away.”

Our prayers and confidence are with the U.S. military personnel and their families. Should they need nursing care, they are in good hands.