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Vivian Bullwinkel is a prominent figure in the history of nursing. She was an army nurse who volunteered during World War II in Australia. She is well-known for being the sole survivor of the Banka Island massacre during World War II in Indonesia. Imperial Japanese soldiers open fire on Army nurses who survived the Vyner Brooke bombing (McAllister, 2015). She is often touted as a symbol of strength and resilience in the history of war nurses.
Vivian was born in Kapunda, South Australia in 1915. She started training as a nurse in the town of Broken Hill and completed her General Nursing at the age of 23 in 1938 from Broken Hill and District Hospital (MacDonald et al. 2018). One year later, she completed midwifery and commenced her nursing career as a staff nurse in Kiaora Private Hospital, Victoria. In 1940, she relocated to Melbourne to provide aid as a war nurse and was sent to Australia soon after to join 2/13th Australian General Hospital.
Vivian and her fellow nurses worked in a poorly equipped hospital with a lack of facilities and soon after the Japanese invasion forced the Australians to evacuate the island in 1942. She was among 65 nurses and additional 265 men and women to board the SS Vyner Brooke vessel to retreat to Australia. But the ship was bombed and 22 nurses made it to the shore and surrendered to the Japanese army (McAllister, 2015). However, they were massacred and Vivian feigned death. She soon surrendered once again and became a war prisoner for three and a half years.
She returned to nursing even after the war ended continued serving in Japan until she resigned as a Captain in 1947. Soon, she re-joined Citizen Military forces and continued offering her services till 1970, and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. She has many accolades to her name including the Florence Nightingale award and Royal Red Cross Medal. She was also appointed a member of the Order of British Empire (MBE) (1973) and Order of Australia (AO) (1993) (MacDonald et al. 2018).
Even as a civilian she served as a Matron in Melbourne Fairfield Hospital for 16 years. She was an active member of the Council of Australian War memorial as well. Her wartime experiences as well as her dedication and professionalism toward nursing and serving people make her an inspiring and significant figure. Even after surviving extreme brutality and witnessing harsh violence, her dedication to her profession is remarkable and it inspires nurses incredibly.
Nurses continue to play an important role in health and social care services. It may be regarded that the remembrance of other prominent figures is effective in drawing inspiration and building competence. Considering my willingness to take up nursing as a career perspective, the rich nursing history is one of the most potent sources of learning for me. By applying reflective tools, the importance and relevance of historic figures and events in nursing can be measured. In this section, I would reflect on my learning from Vivian Bullwinkel.
Vivian Bullwinkel made me recognize the undeniably crucial role of nursing in the military. The responsibility of providing urgent care and treating soldiers is unparalleled and it takes a significant amount of resilience and dedication. When she volunteered for serving military soldiers, Vivian had to work in poorly equipped setups. However, she continued providing aid to the wounded soldiers. I have learned that while equipment and facilities are necessary, it is also important for nurses to build competence that would allow them to provide aid in small setups with a lack of adequate resources. In addition, I have learned lessons of strength and adaptability. Even after facing severe hardships in the Japanese camps, she re-joined the military again suggesting her passion for the profession. I have learned that toughness and dedication are the stepping stones of the nursing profession.
These acquired learning would help me in multiple ways in my future career goals. I may consider serving as a military healthcare provider in the future. Her dedication and willpower have been impactful for me as well. She has inspired me to serve the community with courage, dedication, and selflessness. The tiring and selfless services of nurses and midwives even during critical times are crucial. Her advocacy of wartime nurses also made me learn the importance of nurses participating in shaping healthcare services policies.
These learnings will impact my nursing practice in many ways. I intend to apply these learning outcomes by ensuring that I engage in my duties more positively and willingly. I would ensure to hone my skills even in critical times and try to increase my competence and dedication. I would also ensure that I take an active interest in different healthcare policy development and understand the nooks and crannies of the system. Thus, the learning and experiences I have gained from the historical figure would guide me in my career as a nurse.
MacDonald, K., De Zylva, J., McAllister, M., & Brien, D. L. (2018). Heroism and nursing: A thematic review of the literature. Nurse education today, 68, 134-140.
McAllister, M. (2015). Vivian Bullwinkel: A model of resilience and a symbol of strength. Collegian, 22(1), 135-141.
Author: Liya Smith
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