National nurse readiness for radiation emergencies and nuclear events: A systematic review of the literature

Published:November 01, 2018DOI:


      • As the largest component of the health care sector nurses will be critical to an effective public health response to any event involving a major radiation release and to supporting national security. Despite this certainty, little is known regarding the capacity of U.S. nurses to respond following a large-scale radiation release.
      • Despite the fear and chaos surrounding radiation emergencies and a nuclear event, planning and preparation can lessen deaths and illness and research supports that lives can be saved if a rapidly deployed and robust multidisciplinary health care response exists.
      • Postradiation or nuclear event, nurses will be expected to work in a highly stressful disaster environment while performing triage, minimizing radiation exposure, conducting decontamination, treating life-threatening trauma injuries, providing first-aid, and coordinating care for patients.
      • Additional research and a framework is needed for the development of a radiation competent nursing workforce, along with nurse-driven clinical response initiatives to mitigate the impact of a large-scale radiation release or detonation of a nuclear weapon on the U.S. and global population.



      Little is known regarding the capacity of U.S. nurses to respond following a large-scale radiation release, despite its relevance to our National Security Strategy.


      To conduct a systematic review of the literature to assess nurse readiness for radiation emergencies and nuclear events.


      A systematic review of publications identified through a comprehensive search of four relevant databases (Embase, PubMed/Medline, Scopus, and Web of Science) was conducted (n = 62).


      Limited evidence exists to support that nurses are prepared or willing to respond to a large-scale emergency resulting from a radiation release or nuclear-level event.


      History suggests nurses will be expected to perform triage, minimize radiation exposure, decontaminate, manage trauma, treat burns, and coordinate care for patients. Research is needed to identify the specific roles and responsibilities of nurses in radiation emergencies and nuclear response and to ascertain quantitative measurement of the level of national nurse readiness for these large-scale radiation emergency and nuclear events.


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