IND 2020 case study – Hearing stories about yourself during research

Submitted by ICN
February 11, 2020


During my doctoral studies, I conducted research into the lived experiences of military nurses during their time as a member of a military trauma team.

As part of the ethics application process, I was asked to develop a distress protocol for participants. This document identified mechanisms and procedures in case a participant became distressed speaking about their experiences. Thankfully, all of my participants were fine. However, I wasn’t.

During one of the interviews, one of my participants spoke of the handing down of stories to help new military nursing officers. The participant was very proud of the work that colleagues had done and their experiences while deployed in a combat situation. He said that ‘these girls are my heroes’.

When the study participant spoke of one story, I realised that the story was my story. It was about an event that happened during my time as a trauma team member in East Timor.

We looked after a soldier who had died. My colleague – another nurse who was a very close friend – and I decided that we would stay with our patient until he could be moved into the morgue.

We stayed with our patient in our resuscitation tent for hours. Our reasoning was that if we ever met this soldier’s family, we could put our hands on our hearts and tell them that we didn’t leave their loved one alone.

I’m sure this is a story that many nurses have experienced, but hearing my research participant tell the story with such passion and respect for ‘the two nurses’ who did this, brought back many memories, both good and bad.

I didn’t say anything to the research participant, even though I was in tears, as this was his story.

After the interview was finished, I cried for quite some time and then spoke to my academic advisor. We spoke of the difficulties of hearing my story and the impact it had had on others and hopefully, will in the future.

This highlighted the need to not only provide support to research participants, but also emphasized the need to take into account that some of the information provided during research, may in fact be, the researchers story, but told by others.

Many years later, I was speaking to this friend and told her about the participant’s passion and respect for the ‘two nurses’. She and I cried as we remembered what we had done and many other experiences we had not spoken about for a very long time. The wonderful thing was that my friend was able to sum up this experience beautifully, ‘What a relief, we did, made a difference!’

Find the original article on our ICN website for more details and the French and Spanish versions