The War Nurse
April 14, 2021

Book Review

The War Nurse

Tracey Enerson Wood

St. Louis, 1917. Julia Stimson is a Superintendent of Nurses at the School of Medicine. The school “was identified by the Red Cross as a base hospital, to be activated in the event of an emergency.”

That emergency has arrived. Julia has to recruit “enough qualified nurses willing to give up their lives and embark on an unknowable journey.” Unnecessarily worried, she is overwhelmed with the response of so many young women willing to take that journey. The Great War throws “together people from different backgrounds and cultures like never before.”

Once in Rouen, France, her skills are put into a true test. The hospital her team is assigned to is supposed to be “staffed for five hundred patients, not thirteen hundred.” She needs to figure out how to be efficient in the best possible way, by scheduling skillfully nurses, “setting up a system of a day shift and a night shift, with leaders for each, (…) based on their experience, strength, and compatibilities.”

Beginning of the year 1918, there are more and more patients appearing with questionable symptoms. Some guess it’s “respiratory distress of undisclosed nature.” As more of those uninjured soldiers with flu symptoms appear, the heroine’s skills and creativity come into play again.

This story is concentrated on the work of the nurses and with detailed descriptions it gives a good sense of what it means to be a nurse during WWI and at the time when nursing is not a career path yet. It is textured with historical facts and people that add interesting depth to the story. For example, Rouen is known for production of wool and cotton which the heroine uses to make protective masks when influenza strikes; or appearance of Marie Curie and heroine consulting with the expert on X-rays.

The War Nurse brings a strong female heroine who dreamed of becoming a physician, like her uncle, but that was not to be for a woman of her time. With someone’s guidance, she takes the path of becoming a nurse, which fits her personality and where she finds fulfillment and enjoyment. She comes from a privileged family, but was always encouraged to make a difference, to accomplish something important in life. She sets high standards for herself and for the nurses she is responsible for. With her strong will and perseverance, she forges ahead with her own way of doing things, figuring out regular routines. And when a crisis strikes, she is equipped with knowledge and experience to figure some ways how to handle it. 

The War Nurse is written with great depth of knowledge and woven with attention-grabbing facts, thus creating a fascinating story about a woman known as one of the pioneers of the nursing profession.


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