Nurses as therapeutic agents in the extreme environment of the desert war, 1940-44

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Aims: The purpose of this article is to explore therapeutic nursing with combatants in the extreme environment of the desert in World War II. Background: The notion of nursing as therapy gained credence in the 1990s and is currently experiencing resurgence, as nurses seek to find meaning in their work and improve patient care in the post-Francis environment. Design: This discussion paper will use the hostile space of the desert war zone in World War II to explore nurses’ therapeutic engagement with their combatant patients. It will examine how nurses provided care and comfort through the use of self, fundamental nursing skills, improvisation and innovation and the manipulation of the environment. Data sources: The data used are a combination of letters, diaries, memoirs, and published archival material. Much of the personal testimony is part of an uncatalogued archive of correspondence between nurses and the Matron-in-Chief of the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service. Implications for nursing: Nurses sometimes struggle to identify the importance of their work, compared to other members of the multidisciplinary team. By understanding nursing as therapy, the profession can articulate how their work is fundamental to the healing, or support to a dignified death of their patients. This article illustrates how the therapeutic engagement with patients, even in the most difficult of environments, is possible and brings comfort. Conclusion: Deserts are amongst the most hostile of any space inhabited by people. Yet, even in a place where survival is difficult, therapeutic nursing can support healing and recovery.

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Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Advanced Nursing
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jul 2015

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