A Navy Nurse Reflects on a Career of Service During National Nurses Week

By Navy Seaman Angelina Grimsley

National Nurses Week began on May 6, National Nurses Day, and ends on May 12, which is International Nurses Day and Florence Nightingale’s birthday.

(Nightingale was a British social reformer and statistician and is considered the founder of modern nursing. She is most well-known for her work at soldiers’ bedsides during the Crimean War in the 1850s.)

The theme of this year’s National Nurses Week is “Nursing the World to Health,” fitting for the tremendous efforts being put forth against the COVID-19 pandemic by military and civilian nurses worldwide.

Nurses are the backbone of the medical field, supporting doctors and patients alike. Much like Nightingale, military nurses provide care to those who must keep healthy in order to serve and defend our country.

One Navy Nurse’s Take on Serving Those in Need

For nurses like Navy Lt. Cmdr. Autumn Riddell, this added dimension of responsibility is yet another level of pride to an already indispensable job.

“I had been working in the emergency department of a small hospital for six years while in college, and I knew I wanted to do something more than that [so I joined the military],” said Riddell, who is the senior nursing officer on the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis.

Riddell, a Maine native, said the Navy Nurse Corps represents a vast medical field comprised of 19 subspecialties with options to specialize within each area, so it is difficult to characterize the role of any Navy nurse as typical. She explained that over the course of her naval career, she has served in various positions that have ranged from catching a baby that was delivered before the mother could make it to the hospital, to comforting a patient as they took their last breath.

Photo credit U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Brok McCarthy

A Navy nurse prepares an IV of 100-milliliter saline solution.

Though Navy nurses serve in several ways, there is a role every nurse fulfills at every command, and that is educating others in their field. It is vitally important that they pass on their knowledge, training and experience to others so they can diagnose and treat those in need.

“One thing that is consistent in our practice as Navy nurses is that we are here to provide training to hospital corpsmen, preparing them to serve independently on the front lines,” Riddell said.

That training is especially important in times like these when all hands – civilian and military – are looking for ways to treat those who have been infected with COVID-19.

Following Their Predecessors and Supporting in the Fight Against COVID-19

Riddell said it is challenging for her to not be out there with her colleagues on the front lines providing direct patient care during this time, but she has been busy aboard the USS John C. Stennis by adapting programs provided by the ship’s medical department in order to mitigate risk. As a result of COVID-19, she has collaborated with colleagues throughout the Navy medical community to stay up to speed on the changes rolling out on a daily basis across the fleet.

Riddell is not alone in her camaraderie and dedication.

They are traits of her profession, rooted in a rich history dating back to 1908 when a group of nurses dubbed “The Sacred Twenty” became the first female members to ever serve in the United States Navy. “The Sacred Twenty” were required to travel to Washington, D.C., for their written and oral examinations, pay for their own room and board during assignments, and were not granted full military rank until 1944.

Photo credit U.S. Navy Photo

“The Sacred Twenty" at the Naval Hospital in Washington, D.C. in October 1908.

Despite the hardships of their roles as pioneers in the Navy, they persevered for the sake of service and Riddell said, in her opinion, being a Navy nurse is worth it.

“I have been fortunate to have been able serve in every role I have had,” Riddell said. “I’ve been in the Navy for 14 years this August, and by far, being a nurse in the Navy has been an incredibly rewarding experience.”

Now, more than ever, the Navy and the world are celebrating the hard work and dedication of nurses.

The Navy Nurse Corps’ 112th birthday immediately follows National Nurses Week on May 13.

-This story originally appeared on dvidshub.net. It has been edited for USO.org.

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