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UW-Eau Claire Nursing Students and Professor
Seek Subjects for Military Nurses Study

RELEASED: Dec. 1, 2008

UW-Eau Claire student researchers and professor Cheryl Lapp
Cheryl Lapp, UW-Eau Claire associate professor of nursing (standing), and student researchers (from left) Allison Quinn, Emily Skurla and Heather Nichols are conducting a study on re-entry to civilian life for nurses who have served in active war zones. Also participating in the research project is graduate student Phillip Seep. (UW-Eau Claire photo by Rick Mickelson)

EAU CLAIRE — Four University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire nursing students and their professor, Dr. Cheryl Lapp, seek participants for a research study of military nurses.

The study, "War and Its Aftermath: A Study of Nurses Who Served in Iraq and Afghanistan," will focus on the process of re-entry into civilian life for nurses who have recently served in combat or near-combat situations in active war zones.

Lapp said the study was inspired by the historical contributions of nurses in times of war. She and her students viewed the documentary "Vietnam Nurses," narrated by actress Dana Delaney, who won two Emmy Awards for her portrayal of nurse Colleen McMurphy in the television drama "China Beach," which aired from 1988-91.

"That documentary showed that nurses who served in Vietnam, many of them in their early 20s, brought the war home with them in the same way the soldiers did," Lapp said. "They had little preparation for what they would encounter, and there was no debriefing process afterward. Years later, many nurses described their symptoms of suffering, now known as post traumatic stress disorder, which is most commonly associated with returned soldiers. The documentary showed when you deal with danger, life and death on a daily basis, and then suddenly find yourself back in a more normal way of life, huge pieces of your life can suddenly seem irrelevant."

Now that a whole new generation of nurses has served in Afghanistan and Iraq, Lapp and her students hope to find out if there have been advances since Vietnam.

"We want to see if we're doing any better now," Lapp said. "Are the nurses being better prepared, or are they coming back as traumatized as before? Are we doing a better job of debriefing them when they return? Are they having a smoother transition to civilian life?"

The three undergraduate nurses working on the project juniors — Emily Skurla, Duluth, Minn., Heather Nichols, Pittsville, and Allison Quinn, Plymouth, Minn. — are being employed as research assistants through a grant from UW-Eau Claire's Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. The fourth student, Phillip Seep, Mondovi/Eau Claire, is a graduate student with a military background and is participating in the study as part of a scholarly project for his master's degree. He is particularly interested in the subject of resilience, and what makes some people recover more easily from traumatic experiences, Lapp said.

The students have been meeting regularly since September and working with Lapp to design interview questions and practice interviewing techniques that allow those being interviewed to remain in control of the amount and type of information they give.

"This will be an exploratory research study, so we try to go in with an open mind and let the research reveal itself," Lapp said. "We don't know what we'll find, and we try not to have any preconceived ideas about what we'll find. We may find that these nurses are experiencing adjustment difficulties, or we may find that the process of transition feels less isolating today than for nurses of past conflicts."

The researchers received approval for their project from UW-Eau Claire's Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects, which must approve the research design and protocol of any study involving human subjects.

Lapp and the students hope to begin arranging interviews with 15-20 nurses who meet the research criteria as soon as possible. They will contact professional organizations, such as veteran's hospitals, civilian clinics and hospitals, and state and national nursing associations, for assistance in making contact with possible participants.

The study will be conducted on a regional basis to allow for more participants, Lapp said. In-person interviews will be conducted whenever possible, but if the distance to subjects is too great, some interviews may be conducted via phone, she said.

By spring, Lapp and her students hope to have their results ready to analyze so they can present the results at UW-Eau Claire's annual Student Research Day and the Sigma Theta Tau Honor Society of Nursing Research Day. They also hope to publish their findings in professional journals and present them at local and regional conferences.

Anyone interested in learning more about or participating in this study may contact Lapp at 715-836-5629 or lappca@uwec.edu.

-30-

NW/JB

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