Publication Details

Smith, K. M., Halcomb, E. J. & Moxham, L. (2015). "Stress wasn't a word": Australian nurses' recollections of war-related trauma. Health Emergency and Disaster Nursing, 2(1),12-22.

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Health Emergency and Disaster Nursing


Aim: This research explores the recollections of Australian nurses in regards to psychological injury among those who served in World War II (WWII) and the Vietnamese conflict.

Methods: Existing oral histories from WWII and Vietnam held by the Australian War Memorial were explored for recollections of issues related to psychological injury. A constant comparative method was used to allow themes to emerge across both cohorts of interviews.

Results: Findings indicate that nurses from both conflicts witnessed trauma among their patients in the field and experienced it among themselves upon their return from service. Three main themes emerged which related to nursing practices, nursing attitudes, and nurses’ experiences of stress or trauma during wartime. Underlying these themes were recurring concepts related to gender, stoicism and talking, which reveal that the required professionalism of nursing practice can sometimes act as a barrier to nurses dealing with, and admitting to, their own stress or trauma.

Conclusions: This study reveals a disturbing persistence of issues around gender and ‘talking’ in relation to the experience and treatment of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in returned service people, including medical personnel such as nurses. While nurses are quick to recognise the importance of talking as a form of therapeutic treatment for soldiers, they struggled to articulate their own trauma, revealing a complex negotiation of social expectations and gender roles. The ability of service personnel to talk about their own war experience has been linked to recovery from trauma, and nurses need to be included in this dialogue, for historical purposes and in relation to contemporary military service.