Meet a Military Nurse

Gayle Morris, MSN
Updated March 8, 2023
    Military nurses care for military personnel and advance health while serving their country. Here's how to become a military nurse and how much they make.
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    Since the Army Nurse Corps was established in 1901, nurses have played a pivotal role in the healthcare of the men and women who fight to defend our freedom. Military and civilian nurses have a common goal of treating patients and promoting health. With the armed forces, military nurses care for active-duty military personnel, families, and retirees.

    In other words, military nurses perform many of the same functions and duties as civilian nurses either at home, on military bases, hospitals, or clinics. They are serving their country and performing crucial duties necessary to military success.

    On this page, learn what military nurses do, how to become one, and the salary you can expect when you are a military nurse.

    Q&A With an Army Nurse

    Why did you choose a career in nursing?

    [cardiac care intensive care unit] nurse and encouraged me to do some community service in high school by volunteering at the Children’s Hospital, and I immediately fell in love with the profession!

    What led you to pursue Army nursing, specifically?

    My brother was commissioned as an Army officer in 2006 from West Point, and I had just started nursing school. I knew he’d be deployed and wanted to always have a way to him if he were ever injured on deployment.

    [Reserve Officers’ Training Corps] simultaneously to nursing school, and in 2012 he was injured in Afghanistan and I was able to talk to him on his immediate arrival to Germany and knew all of his nurses at that hospital!

    What is the Army nursing community like?

    Army nursing is a very small world. The Army doesn’t like anyone being somewhere more than three years, so every three years while on active duty you’re moving to another hospital! But, overall, it’s still very close knit and supportive.

    As a labor and delivery (L&D) nurse in the Army Reserves, what does a ‘typical’ day as an active-duty Army nurse look like?

    My day in the Army was very similar to a typical L&D nurse! I worked shift work on a military hospital floor, where I was required to come into work in an Army uniform and then change into scrubs at the hospital.

    The “full-time” schedule is also a bit different — full time as an active duty nurse is 84 hours in two weeks as opposed to 72 hours. We also don’t get paid overtime or differential!

    We aren’t paid hourly at all as a matter of fact. Everyone in the military, no matter your profession, is paid by their rank. So I received the same paycheck every other captain in the Army received.

    We are also required to take an Army Combat Fitness test every six months and maintain height/weight standards. Other military units require mandatory physical training as a unit regularly, but because shift work is so different all the time, we were just expected to maintain our physical readiness on our own time.

    You’re also a mom of six children. In what ways do you balance being a parent with working as a nurse?

    I’ve always had an incredible support system. My husband was on active duty for the first seven years of our marriage, and he transitioned out of the Army when our fifth child was 3 months old.

    I find working the night shift works best for me to be able to see my kids more throughout the day, since I can start dinner with them before leaving for work and I can get home in time to see them out to school most mornings.

    But truly, my husband is the glue to our family. He does most of the cooking and cleans our kitchen every night. On weekends I work, he is in charge of kids’ activities 24/7. We maintain very open communication and sometimes just roll with the chaos, because that’s all we can do!

    Our parents are both amazingly active in our lives, too. They’ve been quick to show up whenever we’ve had emergencies for childcare or training. None of this would have been possible without my family! And that includes my Army family!

    I’ve had so many close friends show up in times of need and step in without question — that’s the beauty of the Army community. Everyone knows that sometimes things get crazy and you just need some extra hands!

    We were stationed in Germany for three years when our oldest four were very young. I had five kids 3.5 and younger (at one point I had four kids under 2) and my friends Erica and Jess would come to the house when my husband was on temporary duty away just to help with bedtime! They’d jump right in, my honorary aunties, and it truly makes you feel like you’re not alone in the struggle.

    What are some of the biggest challenges of your work as an Army nurse?

    Helping women deliver babies (especially ones they don’t get to bring home) while their spouses are deployed is never easy. The hours are long, but it truly is such an honor serving service members and their families in this capacity.

    And the greatest rewards?

    Being able to provide comfort and care to people who have sacrificed so much for our country is truly indescribable. It’s been such an honor to start my career in this capacity.

    The free healthcare is great too!

    What advice would you give to those considering a career as an Army nurse?

    See if there’s an ability to shadow an Army nurse in the hospital. I was able to do my clinicals for med-surg at a military facility in Washington, D.C., and it prepared me well for my future. Understand that it definitely is a sacrifice, and it can be isolating.

    I have missed many weddings, funerals, and celebrations due to limited abilities to take vacation and being far away from family as I moved all over the globe. I’ve spent 18+ weeks away from my kids for training and missed birthdays.

    But there is truly nothing like the military community. Army medicine is pioneering so many evidence-based practices, and we truly provide some of the highest forms of care available.

    What Does a Military Nurse Do?

    Military nurses can serve in any branch of the armed forces, including the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Nurses can be active duty, reservists, and the Army National Guard. Navy nurses support the Marines.

    Nurses who want to serve their country enjoy many job-related benefits, including:

    • Housing allowances
    • Sign-on bonuses
    • Loan repayment

    These financial perks help compensate military nurses for the working conditions and potential risk they endure. Military nurses may be deployed alongside military personnel during war or natural disasters. They work in potentially dangerous environments and under stressful conditions.

    Depending on the military branch you join, your assignment can vary. Military nurses can expect to travel nationally and internationally to meet the needs of military personnel.

    Like civilian nurses, military nurses are using critical thinking skills in high-pressure situations and managing emergencies. Yet, military nurses may be working in combat situations or close to natural disasters.

    They face significant emotional demands working in war conditions or combat support hospitals, which are mobile field hospitals where patients can receive trauma and surgical care in the field. Navy nurses may face other challenges if they are stationed on a ship.

    In all cases, military nurses are expected to collaborate with physicians, specialists, and other healthcare professionals to promote the health and wellness of the military staff.

    Military nurses may also specialize in many of the same areas as civilian nurses. Specialization can increase salary potential and helps contribute to professional and career advancement.

    “There is truly nothing like the military community. Army medicine is pioneering so many evidence-based practices, and we truly provide some of the highest forms of care available.”

    — Shannon Garay, Army nurse

    These are some of the key skills and responsibilities of a military nurse:

    • General nursing skills
    • Critical thinking skills
    • Flexibility
    • Independent thinker and worker
    • Team player
    • Calm demeanor during stressful situations
    • Physically fit
    • Leadership
    • Self-confident
    • Strong communication and decision-making skills
    • Respect for authority
    • Specialized skills necessary for surgery or trauma care
    • Commitment to the armed forces lifestyle

    How to Become a Military Nurse

    Nursing candidates begin their careers by enrolling in and graduating from an accredited nursing program. They must earn a bachelor of science in nursing degree. Military nurses are commissioned as officers, so you need a higher degree than an associate degree.

    After graduating, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination, which is mandatory to receive your registered nursing license in all states. You can work for several years to enlist in the armed forces as a new graduate. When you are ready to enlist in an armed services branch, speak with a recruiter. They can help you determine if you meet the eligibility requirements.

    Military nurses must be U.S. citizens, pass a background security check, and meet medical and moral standards. You’ll need to complete an application packet and go through at least two interviews before the board reviews your information.

    The board will review all the paperwork submitted in your packet and the notes taken during your interview. It can take up to one year from the time you start the process until you receive the final approval from the commissioning board.

    Once the military branch has accepted your application, you will report to officer’s training. The location and the length of the program will depend on the military branch. Military nurses are not required to go through the traditional boot camp since they are commissioned as officers.

    How Much Do Military Nurses Make?

    Indeed lists the average annual salary in the U.S. Army as $89,880 as of March 2022, which was estimated from salaries posted in the previous 12 months. Military nurses also enjoy many added benefits, including:

    • 30 days paid vacation
    • Free medical and dental care for active-duty personnel
    • Paid sick leave
    • Paid relocation
    • A generous retirement plan

    The rank and pay grade will climb as a nurse gains experience, education, certification, or specialty training. A military nurse often starts as an O-1, the lowest officer’s pay grade. The “O” stands for officer, and the number can range from 1 to 10. An O-1 ranking is the lowest, and an O-10 is the highest.

    There are added financial benefits to a military nurse’s salary. For example, you may be offered a sign-on bonus or student loan repayment with a value of up to $30,000. Military nurses have several ways of advancing their rank, and therefore their salary and responsibilities.

    Military nurses are also eligible for state and federal government tax benefits. The federal government only taxes the base salary. Other pay, like combat pay, reenlistment bonuses, tuition benefits, or housing allowance, is not taxed.

    Many states also waive income tax for active-duty military nurses.

    These tax breaks raise the take-home pay of a military nurse above that of a civilian nurse making the same salary. For these reasons, a military nurse’s salary will vary. According to Penn State ROTC, after graduation from Army officer’s training, a nurse’s annual salary is $45,360. This can rise within two years to $57,450 and three years later to $64,320.

    Meet Our Contributor

    Portrait of Shannon Garay, RN

    Shannon Garay, RN

    Shannon Garay is a certified inpatient-obstetrics labor and delivery nurse currently working in Virginia after working as an active-duty registered nurse for 11.5 years. She maintains a role in the Army Reserves as a case manager, while working full time on L&D and going to school at Georgetown University for her master’s degree. Garay is passionate about women’s health education and birth and will graduate in the winter of 2023 with her dual degree in certified nurse midwifery and as a women’s health nurse practitioner.