The Nightingale of Mosul: A Nurse Journey of Service, Struggle, and War

Nursing Book Club

The Nightingale of Mosul: A Nurse Journey of Service, Struggle, and War

Holding a gun, healing a patient

By Susan Luz with Marcus Brotherton (Kaplan, 2010)
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Reviewed By Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN

The Nightingale of MosulTwo hundred and forty–five, period. That’s all the American military hospital beds in Iraq, an area the size of California. Yet they comprise the world’s largest trauma center. Of course there are other arrangements. Some wounded soldiers immediately leave the country for treatment in Germany or stateside. Others never get admitted. They are too seriously injured to survive even transport from a forward treatment area. They get care under the euphemism “expectant care.” Expected to die is what it means; and during mass casualty events such as car bombings or widespread mortar assaults, tending to these fatally injured patients was Susan Luz’s responsibility.

Her assignment with the 399th Combat Support Hospital was tough but rewarding — the outgrowth of her whole approach to nursing. Make a difference while helping. Even if nothing could save them, these soldiers did not die alone.

Nursing the Troops

Susan Luz did not just wake up one day and find herself in one of the most violent places in the world, nor did she overlook the irony of being armed while sometimes trying to save the life of an enemy combatant. But much of her life had been spent preparing for this tour of duty, and she was ready. Maybe not for the horror — who could be? — but definitely for her role as guardian of the health and welfare of everyone in her unit and base.             

Vaccinations, STD prevention, morale boosting, all these seem mundane; but without them a fighting force doesn’t function very well. In the end she won a Bronze Star for her meritorious service.

A Career of War Zones

Much of The Nightingale of Mosul is not about Iraq, but instead about Luz’s nursing career, including a stint in the Peace Corps, school nursing in an inner-city high school, and forensic nursing with the criminally insane. Battlegrounds in their own way, all these served as training for life in the war zone. She is a colonel in the Army Nurse Corps Reserve and has served in humanitarian missions all over.

Luz tells her stories with an eye for what another nurse would want to know, such as how she did things she had never prepared for, and at the same time how she called again and again on her training. She tells us how she never gave up even when the going was really hard and she could have run away. And she shows how many things worth doing involve a cost, sometimes a very big one.

Luz also provides us a glimpse of her private life, one that is rich with family relationships that provided her with ballast during her rockiest moments in the Iraq. Perhaps the most unusual feature of this memoir is the clear message that Luz is an ordinary person who, though her openness to different experiences, has had an extraordinary nursing career.

She does not dwell on the negative but instead rolls up her sleeves and gets to work. Nursing has helped her meet the foundational goal of her life: be a force for good and make a difference.


Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN is a Working Nurse staff writer with extensive hospital and community-based nursing experience.

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