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What Is an Air Force Nurse?

Daniel Bal, MS.Ed
Updated July 6, 2023
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Review the responsibilities of an Air Force nurse, the steps needed to fill the role, available specializations, and the earning potential for those who pursue this career choice.
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How Long to Become

4-5 years

Minimum Degree Requirements


Estimated Annual Salary

$72,510 4-Year Second Lieutenant plus 4-Year retention bonus

Air Force nurses are officers who dedicate their work to providing medical support. They treat active and retired military personnel and their families, at home and overseas.

Air Force nurses share responsibilities with civilian nurses, and therefore also have the freedom to focus on a variety of specializations. Practicing Air Force nursing can often bring a sense of satisfaction, fulfilling a patriotic duty while traveling the world.

This guide explores the responsibilities, educational requirements, specializations, and earning potential of Air Force nurses.

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What Does an Air Force Nurse Do?

bsn required
Commissioned Officer Training Required

Air Force nurses perform many of the same duties as civilian clinical nurses. Where the roles differ most is setting. Air Force nurses can often work in more intense environments that require a specific skill set developed during military training.

Many Air Force nurses provide a similar level of care to their civilian counterparts, and may choose to focus on a more specialized area of medicine. Specialization options vary from pediatric to women’s health to mental health.

closeup of nurse hands on computer keyboard

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Key Responsibilities

  • Treat active-duty military personnel and their families
  • Administer medication and evaluate the effectiveness of treatment
  • Provide care to former members of the military
  • Provide medical care and disaster relief
  • Treat life-threatening injuries obtained in war zones or other intense environments

Career Traits

  • Strong physical and mental stamina
  • Ability to handle stressful and fast-paced situations
  • Ready to perform duties with little to no advanced notice
  • Adept at working and collaborating with others
  • Adaptability

Where Do Air Force Nurses Work?

Air Force nurses work in a variety of settings both domestic and abroad. Common settings include military bases, military hospitals, Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals, air stations, and temporary medical facilities in war zones.

While military nurses can state their station preference, they do not have complete autonomy to choose work settings. The Air Force considers personal preference; however, with over 60 U.S. bases and more than 20 international bases, the needs of the military come first.

How to Become an Air Force Nurse?

The initial steps to become an Air Force nurse are the same as becoming a registered nurse (RN). Prospective nurses need to first earn their bachelor of science in nursing (BSN).

The Air Force requires all nurses to have a minimum of a BSN; therefore, those with an associate degree in nursing (ADN) do not meet the entry requirements.

Graduates must then pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) for eligibility to apply for the RN license. They must also complete at least 12 months of experience in medical surgical nursing before enlisting with the Air Force.

General enlistment requirements also include being a U.S. citizen between ages 18 – 47.

Since Air Force nurses are commissioned officers, they must complete a five-and-a-half-week Commissioned Officer Training course. The Air Force requires the course for all who enlist, regardless of the position they are looking to pursue. Officer training consists of four phases: orientation, development, application, and transition.

Phase one focuses on the fundamentals of leadership and military management; phase two consists of teamwork, conflict resolution, and establishing working relationships; phase three comprises the practical application of being a leader; phase four provides trainees with the opportunity to be the sole leader of a team. Upon completion of the program, personnel transition from the training environment to their station.

Air Force Nurse Certifications and Specializations

Air Force nurses have various specializations that allow them to focus on a unique area of interest. The Air Force provides over a dozen specialization options, including flight, mental health, and family.

Air Force Flight Nurse

Air Force flight nurses provide in-flight care to patients from the location of their medical emergency to the destination healthcare facility. They are a senior member of the aeromedical evacuation team and ensure the patient’s comfort and safety.

Learn More About Flight Nurses

Air Force Mental Health Nurse

The Air Force nurse practitioner provides primary and specialty care to members of the military and their families. They collaborate with physicians and other healthcare professionals to treat patients of all ages.

Learn More About Family Nurse Practitioners

Air Force Family Nurse Practitioner

The Air Force nurse practitioner provides primary and specialty care to members of the military and their families. They collaborate with physicians and other healthcare professionals to treat patients of all ages.

Learn More About Family Nurse Practitioners

How Much Do Air Force Nurses Make?

The annual salary for Air Force nurses correlates with their rank. Since they are commissioned officers, nurses enter the Air Force as Second Lieutenants, a rank with an annual salary of $41,720, according to 2022 military pay data.

While their initial base pay is less than civilian RNs, Air Force nurses supplement their earnings with incentive pay and bonuses. Many of these bonuses consider time served.

Each year served provides the nurse with retention bonuses ranging from an additional $10,000 after their second year to an additional $35,000 after their sixth. The estimated annual salary for a four-year Second Lieutenant would be $72,510, which includes $20,000 in retention bonuses.

Not only do years of service increase a nurse’s pay, but so does their rank. The base salaries for each rank include $40,630 (Second Lieutenant), $46,810 (First Lieutenant), $54,180 (Captain), $61,620 (Major), $71,420 (Lieutenant Colonel), and $85,670 (Colonel).

Frequently Asked Questions about Air Force Nurses

question-mark-circleDo Air Force nurses go to basic training?

Air Force nurses are commissioned officers; therefore, they attend a five-and-a-half-week Commissioned Officer Training course. This course serves as their basic training and provides the necessary preparation for their role in the Air Force.

question-mark-circleDoes the Air Force have residency or fellowship programs for nurses?

The Air Force Nurse Corps offers a residency program providing newly graduated nurses with training experiences focused on professional nurse officer development. The program meets the National Council of State Boards of Nursing Transition to Practice model.

question-mark-circleWhat are the minimum requirements to become an air force nurse?

To be eligible to enter the Commissioned Officer Training course, nurses need a BSN from an accredited nursing program, pass the NCLEX, and serve as an RN for at least one year. They must then finish the training course to become an officer, allowing them to work as a nurse in the Air Force.

question-mark-circleWhat is a Commissioned Officer Training course for nurses?

The Commissioned Officer Training course prepares nurses for military life and active duty in the Air Force. The course includes both classroom studies and physical conditioning that provide them with the skills needed to serve as an Air Force officer.

Page Last Reviewed: September 11, 2022

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