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 | Nurses Week | National Nurses Week

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’s 773rd administers mobile COVID-19 testing during DEF21

Article
6/4/2021
Three military personnel, wearing masks and lab coats, pose for a picture in an Albanian lab.

Approximately 800 Army Reserve soldiers from the U.S. and Europe participated in DEFENDER-Europe 21.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Readiness Capabilities

Mental Health Panel Discusses Impact of COVID-19

Article
6/3/2021
Military personnel wearing face mask speaking on a panel

Walter Reed Bethesda hosts mental health panel to discuss the impacts of COVID-19.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Mental Health Awareness Month | Coronavirus | Psychological Fitness

Based on data, MHS experts encourage vaccines for adolescents

Article
6/1/2021
Sister and brother smiling at each other

With the Pfizer vaccine approved for youth ages 12 to 15, MHS adolescents are lining up to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Children's Health | Vaccine Eligibility

“Shots in arms” – OPT planned & coordinated to meet COVID-19 mission

Article
5/28/2021
Military personnel sitting around a table talking

The Department of Defense’s COVID-19 Operational Planning Team has been the quiet force behind the DOD’s vaccination effort since November.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus

VAX Facts: Which Vaccine is Right for Me?

Video
5/28/2021
DHA Seal

Dr. LC Collins talks about the importance of getting the first vaccine available to you. Don't hold out for a certain brand; they're all safe and effective.

Recommended Content:

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

VAX Facts: Breastfeeding after the COVID-19 Vaccine

Video
5/28/2021
DHA Seal

Dr. LC Collins encourages people who are breastfeeding to get the vaccine. Since the vaccine doesn't contain live virus, you can't pass COVID to your baby.

Recommended Content:

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

VAX Facts: Do I Need the Vaccine if I Had COVID?

Video
5/28/2021
DHA Seal

Dr. LC Collins talks about the importance of getting vaccinated even if you already had COVID. We're not sure how long natural immunity lasts, so getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself.

Recommended Content:

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

What is an mRNA vaccine?

Video
5/28/2021
DHA Seal

Dr. LC Collins explains how mRNA vaccines work to protect you from COVID-19.

Recommended Content:

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

Are mRNA vaccines safe?

Video
5/28/2021
DHA Seal

Dr. LC Collins explains the years of research and ongoing monitoring to show how mRNA vaccines are safe and effective.

Recommended Content:

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

COVID-19 Vaccination Card Second Shot

Infographic
5/27/2021
Graphic saying that keeping track of your vaccination card is important. Includes a helpful tips section, a link to www.tricare.mil/covidvaccine, and what to do when you didn’t get your vaccination card or don’t have a copy. The TRICARE logo is on the bottom right of the page.

Keep track of your vaccination card. Tips include keeping your card on you and taking a picture of it as a backup copy.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Costs and Documentation | Coronavirus

Adolescents ages 12 and older eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations

Article
5/27/2021
Son of military personnel receiving his COVID-19 vaccine

Pfizer vaccine now authorized for children 12 and older.

Recommended Content:

Children's Health | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus

Town Hall May 26 2021

Video
5/26/2021
Town Hall May 26 2021

RADM Anne Swap will discuss the National Capital Region's response to COVID-19

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | National Capital Region Market

COVID-19 Town Hall with RADM Anne M. Swap

Article
5/24/2021
MHS and Military OneSource NCR COVID-19 Town Hall with Rear Admiral Anne M. Swap, Director, National Capital Medical Directorate, Wednesday, May 26 at 11:50 a.m. ET

The purpose of this event is to inform National Capital Region (NCR) beneficiaries of DHA’s efforts with battling coronavirus (COVID-19) and encourage them to not delay care.

Recommended Content:

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

Adirim, Place laud DHA response to COVID-19 in briefing

Article
5/21/2021
Defense Health Agency Director Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Ronald J. Place speaking at a press conference

Dr. Terry Adirim, acting assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, and Army Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Ronald J. Place, director of the Defense Health Agency, provided a COVID-19 update during a Pentagon press briefing.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus

Sailors continue to receive COVID-19 vaccine

Article
5/20/2021
Military personnel wearing a face mask receiving the COVID-19 vaccine

Sailors continue to voluntarily receive one of the three available COVID-19 vaccines.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 34

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.