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Where have all the nurses gone?

April 27, 2004 -- A lengthy front-page article by Karl Vick in today's Washington Post, headlined "The Lasting Wounds of War: Roadside Bombs Have Devastated Troops and Doctors Who Treat Them," describes the recent explosion of horrific injuries to U.S. soldiers in Iraq. The article focuses on the psychological effects of the wounds on the physicians who treat them. One nurse appears very briefly in the text of the article, compared to five physicians, most of whom are quoted extensively on technical and emotional issues, creating the impression that hardly any nurses are involved in the care of the severely wounded, and that physicians are far more affected by the injuries than nurses, medics or other health care personnel.

This article promotes the view that pretty much the only combat health care workers who matter are physicians. Aside from the "doctor" headline, the article notes that "doctors" in the main Baghdad combat support hospital are reeling from the stream of devastating wounds to young soldiers. Severe head wounds leave "the doctors who see them first struggling against despair." When casualties arrive at the combat hospital, "doctors scramble." This is especially absurd because the focus of the piece is not on those who die, but those who survive with catastrophic injuries and long recoveries (or no recoveries), thus making it even more likely that the patients' main health care contacts over time will be with nurses.

Maj. Greg Kidwell, head nurse in the Baghdad hospital's ER, does get one brief quote deep in the article: "We've all reached our saturation for drama trauma." And in one of several photos accompanying the web version of the article, a soldier appears sitting in a wheelchair rolling away from the camera in near-darkness. The caption reads: "Sgt. Michael Langmo, a nurse, wheels around the ambulance entrance." Presumably Sgt. Langmo is a licensed practical nurse, since registered nurses in the U.S. military are officers. Also, is the wheelchair his, as the result of an injury? Is he just using the chair to do a wheelie on a break? Or is this the only way nurses can get a fraction of the attention for their heroic work in Iraq that this article reserves for physicians?

See Karl Vick's article "The Lasting Wounds of War: Roadside Bombs Have Devastated Troops and Doctors Who Treat Them" in the April 27, 1994 edition of the Washington Post.


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