Whether you’re providing humanitarian aid in a foreign country, offering help amid the recovery after a natural disaster at home, or working as a military nurse in an active war zone, nursing in crisis requires a special kind of skill you won’t learn until you’re in the thick of it. Not even the most critical of trauma units can prepare you for some of the skills required to perform your duties amid chaos.
From the days of the Crimean War, when Florence Nightingale provided aid and comfort to wounded British Soldiers by lamplight, and Clara Barton, who tended the injured soldiers on the front lines of the Civil War, nurses have risked their very own lives to heed the calling of those wounded in battle. Today’s nurses, both military and civilian, working in a war zone, in refugee camps, and amid the rubble of earthquakes and hurricanes, deal with similarly limited supplies, in crude environments.
Working in the Middle of War
The nature of warfare, the location of the battlefield, and the devastating outcomes which modern weaponry can incur necessitate changes in care for those nursing in crisis, such as active war. Combat health support, as well as trauma care, must evolve to fit the needs of the injured. Where civilian trauma care stateside is aided by technology, the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan are crude and austere. Life-saving procedures are performed under some serious duress and it takes a highly composed and trained individual to carry out nursing duties in such an atmosphere.
Whether you’re an active duty military nurse, or someone who has been called up from reserves as needed, you understand there are two ways of doing things: the military way and the wring way. Bearing that in mind, medical treatment, as dictated by the military, involves triage, treatment, evacuation, and returning the soldier to duty as soon as possible. This no-frills approach is far more efficient than the care the injured would receive in a hospital or medical center environment.
The training military nurses receive prepares them to deal with these war zone scenarios. The types of trauma that must be addressed rapidly, amputations that must be performed, as well as life- and limb-saving treatment differ immensely from that which hospital trained nurses are accustomed. Specialized training to equip those professionals in nursing in crisis is in addition to that which every licensed nurse must have, including FEMA training.
Nursing in Crisis: Natural and Man-Made Disasters
Of course war isn’t the only opportunity to practice your nursing in crisis. The chaos and danger of working with the sick and injured during a natural disaster is just as prevalent for those in nursing today. Man-made disasters can be as devastatingly chaotic and result in as severe and traumatic casualties as any war zone. Nurses should be prepared to provide care and comfort in these situations in much the same way as one would do so in a military conflict. Going in cold, without the proper training, can have devastating effects for both the injured and those providing medical care.
There is a push to equip all nurses with disaster relief training. Although those specialized in nursing in crisis will be the primary nurses in these events, on foreign soil and at home, every nurse should be equipped with the basic knowledge and skill set to be able to adapt to an emergency-response environment. Having the desire to provide medical care is only the beginning of nursing in crisis. Without the proper training you can easily put yourself in harms way along with your patients coworkers.
For instance many of the medical personnel who volunteered during the Ebola crisis in West Africa weren’t adequately prepared to maintain their own health and safety. Their lack of knowledge of protocol in this type of disaster exposed several of the nursing staff, as well as physicians, to the deadly disease. Proper training in handling highly epidemic biological threats, as well as chemical exposure and radiation, in such chaotic and crude environments is essential.
Preparing for Nursing in Crisis
As nurses are a highly significant resource when first responders are called for, it’s imperative that the proper training is provided. Certainly the first place to find such training is through FEMA or your local emergency management agency. Also, inquire of your professional agency, if you belong to one. Additionally you could contact one of the many organizations supplying relief, such as the American Red Cross, or Nurses Without Borders.
There is always a need for nursing in crisis. Many times nurses are the ones who provide the initial life saving care critical to the survivors of war and disasters. Nursing in crisis can be a dangerous undertaking, but just as Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale felt called to service in their time, so are many selfless and caring nurses today.