Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

The evolution of military nursing

Image of vintage military nurses The First U.S. Army nurses attached to Center Task Force arrive in Algeria, North Africa, Nov. 9, 1942. (photo courtesy OHA 343 U.S. Army Signal Corps Photographs Collection. Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine)

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Nursing in the Military Health System

In the 1800s, the medical community thought of nursing as a domestic skill. Back then, nurses weren’t considered part of the medical team, but rather performed “a social activity that has always been essential,” said Dale Smith, a professor of military medicine and history at the Defense Health Agency’s Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

“The sick and injured must be bathed, fed, and assisted in what we call the activities of daily living today,” explained Smith. “Military units recruited casual local help and assigned convalescent patients to these duties for most of history.” In fact, recovering patients were the primary source of nursing care both in the military and in many civilian hospitals until the late 19th century, according to Smith. 

During the Crimean War in 1850s Europe, military surgeons typically treated patient wounds and provided post-treatment care, according to Alan Hawk, historical collections manager at the National Museum of Health and Medicine. Hawk said a large number of casualties were more than surgeons could handle, so when Florence Nightingale and her volunteer group of about 40 nurses transferred the skills of convalescent care from the home to the hospital, they demonstrated their invaluable support. Hawk noted that by institutionalizing her role, Nightingale created the current concept of the modern health care team.

From Nightingale’s volunteer Crimean nursing expedition, the Civil War to the meningitis outbreak of World War I 60 years later and beyond, military nurses have played a critical role in patient care, explained Hawk. 

“The value of nurses during the Spanish American War and the recognition that it would be better to have a dedicated corps led to the creation of the Army Nurse Corps in 1901 and a Navy Nurse Corps in 1908,” said Hawk.

Smith further explained how since World War II, a nurse needed to demonstrate not only nursing skills, but also provide leadership.

“War had shown rapid deployments, and emergency recruiting made the nurse a teacher and leader of enlisted medical personnel,” Smith explained, adding that after the war, military nurses were commissioned as officers. 

Throughout history, nurses have also been changemakers, advocating for the profession. According to Smith, Clara Barton campaigned for the Red Cross to be brought from Europe to the United States, which ultimately assured the nation of a volunteer pool of trained nurses. She would soon become founder of the American Red Cross. 

Laura Cutter, chief archivist at the NMHM, said Army Maj. Julia Stimson, the first female major, pushed for wider recognition and benefits for health care workers across the military. 

“I think the most significant moment was in September 1945, when military nurses were granted full veteran's benefits,” Cutter explained. “Many, many high-ranking nurses like Julia Stimson fought for this and the smaller advances made before it. For me, the story of nursing is very much about the hard work of service and, often, working just as hard to make a place for themselves,” she added.

According to Air Force Col. Virginia Garner, today’s battle against COVID-19 has not changed the nursing mission. Whether caring for patients in combat or in a clinic the goal remains the same: keep a healthy and fit fighting force. 

“Nurses are leaders in the military and part of an incredible health care team,” said Garner. “Nurses are tasked with the awesome responsibility to keep our service members and their families healthy.” 

Military nurses have tactical, operational, and strategic influence across the entire Military Health System, explained Garner, who serves as the command surgeon for Global Strike Command at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. In her role, Garner manages COVID-19 response efforts in addition to leading a team of 20 medics to oversee eight military treatment facilities that care for more than180,000 beneficiaries. 

Today, “more and more nurses are rising in the ranks as they demonstrate the value that their leadership brings to the entire team,” said Garner, citing Air Force Lt. Gen. Dorothy Hogg as one example. Hogg is the first nurse selected to be surgeon general of the Air Force. 

“I am inspired by those back then and now who continue to question the status quo,” Garner added. “We stand on the shoulders of giants who were willing to follow their passion and calling despite the challenges.”

You also may be interested in...

Army Public Health Center provides update on Long COVID risks

Article Around MHS
12/1/2021
COVID19 Symptoms

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Post-COVID conditions are a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems people can experience four or more weeks after first being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus

JTF Coyote begins pediatric COVID-19 clinics as adult booster vaccination numbers increase

Article Around MHS
11/23/2021
Military health personnel giving the COVID-19 vaccine

The Vermont National Guard now supports the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic with vaccinations for youth in the 5 to 11 age group and booster clinics for the general adult population.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Coronavirus

MHS Reaches 6 Million Doses of Vaccine Against COVID

Article
11/10/2021
Airmen of the 139th Airlift Wing, Missouri Air National Guard, receive COVID-19 immunizations as a part of the federal mandate at Rosecrans Air National Guard Base, St. Joseph, Missouri, Oct. 2, 2021. The 139th Medical Group oversees the operation. .

Military passes 6 million mark for COVID-19 shots administered across the Military Health System.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine | COVID-19 Information for Military Treatment Facility Directors

COVID 19 Vaccine Is Now Available for Children 5 to 11

Article
11/9/2021
5-year-old girl in mask reads a book by herself

COVID-19 vaccines for 5-11 year olds are ready now through MHS

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine

More Than 95% of Active Duty Have Received COVID-19 Vaccine

Article
10/15/2021
Female hospital corpsman gives a COVID-19 vaccine injection to a sailor in her left arm

Service members continue to line up for COVID-19 vaccinations.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Information for Military Treatment Facility Directors

USECAF receives insight into COVID19 vaccinations at Reserve wing

Article Around MHS
10/8/2021
Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones visits with 433rd Airlift Wing members at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, Oct. 2, 2021.

Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones visited the 433rd Airlift Wing here to meet with Reserve Citizen Airmen leaders on mandatory COVID-19 vaccination efforts, Oct. 2, 2021.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Coronavirus

Mask Mouth Does Not Exist, Dentists Say

Article
10/6/2021
A bunch of children wearing face masks walk on a city street.

Mask mouth doesn’t exist, Internet chatter to the contrary, dentists say.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus

Compassionate Caring with COVID Vax Commitment

Article Around MHS
10/6/2021
A  female doctor poses for a photo.

When pregnant patients have an appointment with Lt. Cmdr. Megan Northup at Naval Hospital Bremerton, they get more than a qualified and caring OB/GYN physician.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Health Promotion duo optimizes health on Incirlik Air Base

Article Around MHS
9/30/2021
Air Force Capt. Sydney Sloan, 39th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron health promotion element chief (right), and Air Force Senior Airman Gloriann Manapsal, 39th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron health promotion technician (left), promote making healthy choices at the Sultan’s Inn Dining Facility on Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.

The 39th Operation Medical Readiness Squadron health promotion team provides and integrates evidence-based programs to optimize the health and readiness, even during these unprecedented times.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Total Force Fitness | Coronavirus

COVID-19 Booster Shots are Now Available – What You Need to Know

Article
9/30/2021
Containers of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Each vial contains six doses for vaccination against the COVID-19 virus.

Booster shots are now recommended for millions of people – but many others will have to wait for additional approvals.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Myths & facts about the vax - debunking common COVID-19 vaccine myths

Article
9/29/2021
Myths and facts about the vax

The COVID-19 vaccine has been mandated across the Department of Defense and despite its demonstrated effectiveness and safety, a host of myths have left some Airmen and Guardians hesitant to receive it. While social media posts and some news outlets may make it harder to keep up with what is fact or fiction, the science is clear … approved COVID-19 vaccines work.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Retired colonel leads Fort Irwin COVID response mission

Article Around MHS
9/28/2021
Army Col. Richard Hopkins, the COVID-19 response coordinator with Weed Army Community Hospital, collects paperwork from a Soldier who received the COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination event.

Retired Army Col. Richard Hopkins volunteered under the Army’s COVID-19 Retiree Recall Program to return to service as the COVID-19 response coordinator for Weed Army Community Hospital and Fort Irwin, California.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

ARNORTH military support to FEMA begins in Tennessee, continues in five states

Article Around MHS
9/24/2021
Prepared COVID-19 vaccine shots wait to be administered to an Airman. Members of the 134th Air Refueling Wing were eligible to receive their COVID-19 vaccines during Unit Training Assembly here May 2nd, 2021.

At the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, approximately 20 military medical personnel deployed to Tennessee to support civilian healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients in local hospitals.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

COVID-19 can lead to long-term health concerns

Article Around MHS
9/23/2021
Debra Lamb, a 30-year civil service veteran at Ft. Carson, contracted the COVID-19 virus late in 2020 and experienced a harrowing ordeal before partially recovering months later.

Debra Lamb, a 30-year civil service veteran at Ft. Carson, contracted the COVID-19 virus late in 2020 and experienced a harrowing ordeal before partially recovering months later.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

DODEA Schools Keeps On With In-Person Classes, and Fall Sports, Too

Article
9/23/2021
Kids playing football

DODEA schools are striving to continue in-person learning in the 2021-22 school year.

Recommended Content:

Children's Health | Coronavirus
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 37

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.