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A day in the life of: a Royal Navy nurse

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What is it like to be a nurse in the Royal Navy? Nursing Times talks to Lt Audrey Johnston about the challenges and rewards of her career

Lt Audrey Johnston finds life as a nurse in the Royal Navy both “enjoyable and challenging”. She says the service offers her opportunities to nurse on land, in the air and on the sea - allowing her to make the most of her skills, while stretching her abilities.

Since joining the service in 2008 as a qualified nurse, Lt Johnston has treated soldiers with amputations in Afghanistan, nursed Royal Marines who have been protecting ships from pirate activities, and delivered care to patients in a Ministry of Defence unit in a UK hospital.

Working for the Royal Navy has allowed Lt Johnston to develop her nursing skills. Since training as an officer at Dartmouth Naval Training College she has taken a
Master’s degree in critical care at Glasgow University, funded by the service.

Looking after critically ill people with major amputations, gunshot wounds and burns has tested her skills. But she deals with these challenges because she wants
“to stabilise patients and get them home as soon as possible”, she says.
Lt Johnston appreciates the camaraderie of life in the Royal Navy and the support she has from colleagues. “You need to help each other, particularly during stressful times. But that’s the ethos of the service. That support, along with the many career opportunities it offers, inspired me to join the RN,” she says.
While no two days are the same in the life of an RN nurse, Lt Johnston describes a moment in her career that was particularly memorable, when she was deployed
on a Royal Navy ship on the Indian Ocean, working with the marines.

8.00am: I go to the hospital unit on the ship. I talk with my head of department and other medical staff - there’s an 18-strong medical team on board including
doctors and nurses - about the challenges the day might bring and what operations might be happening. The team learns there are pirates in the area and that
there is a strong chance the marines will be going out to deal with them.

10.30am: The ship’s alarm goes off. This alerts us that the marines are about to go out in fast boats and helicopters to deal with a pirate ship. We need to ready the
hospital unit to treat potential casualties. The medical team is responsible for treating anyone who has been injured - not only the marines but also those who have
been captured. We prepare the unit to receive possible casualties. This involves getting the equipment ready, making sure there is sufficient medication available
and that all the ventilators are working. All the equipment has to be “secured for sea” which involves making sure it is strapped down in case we run into choppy waters.

“We treat anyone who has been injured - not only the marines but also those who have been captured”

3pm: The marines have captured several pirates and brought them back on board. One marine is quite badly injured. He is taken to the intensive care part of the
hospital unit where we make him as comfortable and pain-free as possible. All the pirates are given a medical check and some are treated for minor injuries.
We are responsible for their welfare, and need to treat all our patients equally. As only a few speak English, you have to overcome language barriers. But that’s all part of the experience of working in unusual circumstances, which means being able to think on your feet. After being treated the pirates are held in a facility on ship under guard.

7pm: I and some of the other hospital staff are called back to where the pirates are being held, as one has severe chest pain and another an infected wound from an
old injury. They are brought back to the hospital unit to be treated. Their progress will be monitored and they will stay in the facility until the following day. For security
purposes a marine accompanies us to the hospital to ensure our safety.

10pm: The injured marine in our intensive care unit is stable enough to be flown to the nearest hospital. A doctor and I accompany him on his journey to hospital
in the ship’s helicopter. We monitor his condition and make sure he has the necessary medication. We stay at the hospital until we know what care is planned for the patient. Sometimes I may be required to fly back with a patient to the UK. However, on this occasion I return to the ship, after an eventful day.

To find out more about being a nurse with the Royal Navy call 08456 07 55 55 or visit

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