OKINAWA, Japan - On May 13, 1908, the Department of the Navy created a corps of nurses to meet its health care needs. Every year, nurses around the globe celebrate National Nurses Week from May 6 to 12, which includes the birthday of the Navy Nurse Corps and of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.
Nursing as a field of formal medical study came into existence during the Crimean War, when Florence Nightingale – also called “Lady of the Lamp” -- and her staff of trained nurses pointed out that the majority of British casualties were dying from poor living conditions coupled with the injuries they received in combat.
However, the nurse’s role in responding to wounds sustained on the battlefield was critical.
“In those days a lot of soldiers succumbed to their wounds before they could even get off the battlefield,” said Cmdr. Norman Chanboneau, an associate director of nursing services with U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa. “These days we strive to get our wounded warfighters to a trauma center within an hour.”
At first, there were only 20 nurses in the Navy Nurse Corps, but, by the end of the 20th century, the demand for trained nurses swelled the corps to its current force of 4,000 active-duty and reserve nurses.
“Today’s nurses come in a variety of career specializations,” said Lt. Cmdr. Cathy Luna, a nurse midwife with the hospital. “They can be nurse practitioners, nurse’s assistants, midwives and family practice nurses. There are many avenues of careers for nurses to pursue.”
All Naval nurses go through a six-week training course to prepare them for the rigors of treating casualties of combat.
“The Navy Trauma Training Center in Los Angeles helps prepare nurses for treating trauma caused from gunfire,” said Lt. Peter Goldbeck, a nurse with the emergency room trauma center here. “We then train our corpsmen from the knowledge we’ve gained from previous education and experience.”
Navy nurses need to display teamwork and dedication to patient welfare to ensure the mission is achieved both in the hospitals and on the battlefield.
“When I am treating a patient, it’s important that all my corpsmen are communicating with each other, or else everything is a disaster,” said Goldbeck. “It is a nurse’s responsibility to ensure the patients are properly cared for, and that takes teamwork.”
On the final day of Nurses Week, the 163 Navy nurses here, including 61 civilian contractors, celebrate with a formal dinner and cake-cutting ceremony.
“It’s nice to have a week for all the hard workers that are nurses,” said Leslie Kearcher, a registered nurse with the multi-service ward of the hospital.