Nurses on the Battlefield: USF College of Nursing Professors Recall Caring for Those Who Served
As we celebrate the 100-year milestone of the first woman to enlist in the U.S. Navy — thus becoming the first woman to serve in the U.S. armed forces — we are reminded of the critical contributions veteran women continue to make.
At the University of South Florida’s College of Nursing, two trailblazing veteran nurses know firsthand how being a nurse on the battlefield, coupled with the military’s leadership training, has brought them to where they are now.
It is their pride in serving as military nurses that fuels their passion in furthering the college’s mission to serve veterans.
Susan Perry, PhD, CRNA, FAAN, the vice dean of clinical integration and scholarship at the USF College of Nursing, spent 25 years in the Air Force as a nurse anesthetist. When she retired from the military with the rank of colonel, that specialized training and commitment to veterans led her to USF.
“The training I had in the military prepared me to think outside the box and be a better leader. It’s completely responsible for where I am. The person I became, which led me to be the vice dean, is completely the result of this other experience,” Dr. Perry said.
That “other” experience included commanding a humanitarian mission at a clinic in the mountainous regions in Peru where a terrorist group, the Shining Path, was active. She has also deployed twice in support of combat missions and set up military hospitals in remote regions, some of which were targeted by missiles. She has been on three military assignments where she was the only nurse anesthetist and, as a result, was on call every hour of every day for five months.
Dr. Perry said that while women have been serving as military nurses since the Civil War, they did so without rank, and recognizing the centennial anniversary of women being able to enlist is important and necessary.
“I think it’s wonderful that 100 years ago they decided to formalize us, because it was a way of really acknowledging the fact that for hundreds of years before that, you had women going behind the troops and doing nursing care,” she said.
Assistant Professor Alicia Rossiter, DNP, FNP, PCPNP-BC, FAANP, is the program director for the Veteran to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (VBSN) — a program geared to providing military service members and veterans an accelerated pathway to a bachelor’s degree.
Dr. Rossiter said her experience serving on active duty in the Army and then in the Air Force Reserves gives her a unique perspective and helps her guide nursing students through the VBSN program.
She said serving as an Army nurse during Operation Desert Storm was an honor she will never forget. She remembers having to wear a gas mask while assisting with surgeries with Scud missiles going off.
“Just being able to take care of soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines — there is no greater honor than caring for people who served in harm’s way. It’s very humbling,” Dr. Rossiter said. “We are there because those people put their lives on the line for us.”
Dr. Perry said even though she’s been in situations where she feared for her safety, being a military nurse has been her life’s most rewarding and fulfilling experience.
“I’ve always said it combines two of the highest callings you could have —to serve your country and to serve others. I don’t think there’s any better thing to do.”
Story by Elizabeth L. Brown, USF College of Nursing