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Nurses Celebrate Nurses’ Week, Navy Nurse Corps Birthday


By Bernard S. Little

WRNMMC Command Communications​

Nurses at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center capped off their National Nurses’ Week activities with a cake-cutting ceremony and evening ball May 11.

In addition to National Nurses’ Week, the cake-cutting ceremony also celebrated the 110th birthday of the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps. The evening ball in Rockville, Maryland continued the recognition of nurses for the inspiration, innovation and influence they provide patients and others.

“We’re very excited to celebrate both the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps’ birthday and all of the nurses we have here – active duty, our federal GS, our contract staff, as well as Red Cross volunteers, and nurses we partner with at the Uniformed Services University and Public Health,” said Navy Capt. Valerie Morrison, director of nursing at WRNMMC. “We really have the entirety of the Federal Nursing Service Council here at Walter Reed [Bethesda].”

She added a “true testament” of the nursing care and services provided at WRNMMC is that the American Nurses Credentialing Center recently designated WRNMMC as a Pathway to Excellence (P2E) facility. P2E designation recognizes health-care organizations that promote and sustain a safe, positive and healthy working environment for nurses, which leads to better outcomes for patients.

Morrison added that WRNMMC is the first organization in the Military Health System and Department of Defense to earn P2E designation, and the WRNMMC nursing team “really tackles” the components of P2E, which include quality, safety, well-being, leadership, shared governance, and professional development, every day.

“Once again, you guys are first,” said Navy Rear Adm. Mary Riggs, director of research and development for the Defense Health Agency, in recognizing WRNMMC’s nursing team’s P2E achievement. Riggs served as guest speaker at the cake-cutting ceremony.

“What a great time to be in nursing,” Riggs added. “Whether it’s on the battlefield or off…, nurses have employed their professionalism and left a lasting impact on every life they've touched,” she said. “We do this through the evolution of our critical skills as well as our critical thinking in nursing. We serve with purpose every day to save the lives of our warfighters who so selflessly defend our nation.”

Riggs said nurses are more than caregivers, as they also serve as “patient advocates, administrators, program managers, educators, researchers and leaders who take on some of the most challenging positions across the military health system[MCMCW1] .”

Nurses’ capabilities span a range of specialties, from disease management to behavioral health, to flight and combat medicine, Riggs continued.

“It’s always good to pause and remind ourselves of those who have paved the way before us,” Riggs furthered. She noted the nearly 100 Army and Navy nurses who served during World War II and were captured and imprisoned by the Japanese. “They became the only group of American women captured and imprisoned by the enemy during that war.” She described their story as one of “endurance, professionalism and raw determination. That’s something that I see with all of our nurses now, particularly those who have served in various deployment settings. We still maintain that core competency within our hearts.”

While captured, those World War II Army and Navy nurses helped build and staff hospitals “in the middle of the malaria-infested jungle on the peninsula of Bataan,” Riggs said. “They were short of supplies and medicine, worked around the clock in operating rooms and open-air wards, dealing with [a variety of] wounds and gangrenous limbs, and they ministered to the wounded, sick and dying.”

Riggs added that the Japanese held the nurses captive in an internment camp for “three-long years marked by loneliness and starvation." She said despite this, the nurses "kept their mission and stuck together, and in the end, it was this loyalty, sense of purpose and honor they had for their corps that both challenged and saved every single one of them.”

“For those of us who have been deployed, especially in austere environments, [the World War II nurses] would be very proud of how their example is carried forward today,” Riggs said.

“Since the American Revolution, from bedside to battlefields, on water, in the air and on land, nurses have served admirably as an indispensable part of the U.S. fighting force,” Riggs added.

She concluded her talk with the following Irish Limerick, which she said reminds her of nurses: “Work for a cause and not the applause. Live life to express, not to impress. Don’t strive to make your presence noticed, just make your presence felt.”

“I think each and every nurse, no matter where they are, your presence is always felt,” Riggs said.

“As we move into the next year and the next chapter of our profession, use your experiences to influence and mentor the young nurses you work with. Be the person who helps that next generation understand the importance of transforming their experiences and lessons learned into life-saving innovations. Have the courage to drive change to meet the medical needs of our warfighters. They are depending on you. They must be the center of everything we do,” Riggs said. “You are the selfless, devoted, compassionate and innovative spirit to care for our nation’s heroes,” she stated.

On May 13, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt signed a bill establishing the Nurse Corps as a unique component of the U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. Twenty women, who became known as “The Sacred Twenty” were selected as the first members and assigned to the Naval Medical School Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Today, the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps includes more than 4,000 members delivering quality care to service members around the world ensuring the health and readiness of the nation’s warfighters, according to Navy Vice Adm. (Dr.) C. Forrest Faison, the Navy surgeon general and chief of the Navy’s BUMED.