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Military Nurse Career Overview

Kristen Hamlin
Updated February 10, 2023
    Military nurses work in fast-paced environments, caring for enlisted soldiers and their families. Learn about how to become one in the guide below.
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    Nurse chatting with soldier patientCredit: Drazen Zigic / iStock / Getty Images Plus

    how long to become

    job outlook

    job outlook7% growth rateFor All RNs

    average earning potential

    average earning potential$75,330SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

    Military Nurse Career in Brief

    bsn required
    certification optional

    Military nurses are members of the U.S. Armed Forces. While their primary focus — providing healthcare — remains the same as their civilian counterparts, a military nurse’s work environment can be vastly different. Military nurses may work on foreign or domestic military bases, caring for personnel and their families in military healthcare facilities.

    During times of conflict, military nurses are deployed with soldiers to provide medical support. Working in these conditions can be challenging, as the facilities are often limited and combat injuries may be severe.

    While military nursing is a challenging occupation, it provides an opportunity to work with healthcare professionals from a wide range of backgrounds and expand your skill set. As a member of the armed forces, military nurses also enjoy specialized training and education and access to the latest groundbreaking technologies.

    Key skills and responsibilities for military nurses include:

    Key Skills & Responsibilities

    • General nursing skills and knowledge
    • Ability to work independently
    • Critical decision-making, often in very challenging situations
    • Leadership
    • Specialized skills in anesthesia, critical care, and surgical/operating room nursing
    • Maintain calm demeanor during stressful situations
    • Flexibility to accept different positions and assignments
    • Physical fitness
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    Where Do Military Nurses Work?

    Military nurses work in a variety of settings in the U.S. and abroad. Depending on their assignments, nurses may work in combat zones under challenging or austere conditions. Others take jobs on ships, as flight nurses, or as part of humanitarian missions worldwide. The most common workplace settings are military hospitals, clinics, and trauma centers.

    • minusMilitary Hospitals

      ilitary nurses care for military members and their families; assess patients, administer medication, and coordinate with other providers to ensure positive outcomes; and can specialize in specific populations or types of medicine, such as pediatrics, OB/GYN, or surgical care.

    • minusTrauma Centers

      Military nurses treat patients who have experienced significant trauma, including combat wounds; provide critical care nursing; and may work in an operating room or as a nurse anesthetist.

    • minusMilitary Clinics

      Military nurses provide general preventive and acute care for service members and their families on foreign or domestic military bases, including chronic condition management, prenatal care, and overall wellness services. They may also host vaccination clinics or provide other public health services.

    Three Types of Military Nurses

    The Navy, Army, and Air Force all recruit nurses for both active duty and reserve positions. Each branch maintains its own requirements for nurses.

    • Navy Nurse Corps

      Eligible applicants must be 18-41 years old and hold a bachelors degree or be a student in good standing at an accredited nursing school. Candidates must also hold an active nursing license unless they are a member of the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) or Nurse Candidate Program (NCP). NROTC and NCP members must obtain licensure within one year of beginning active duty. Nurses must commit to three years of active duty and pass medical and physical exams.
    • Army Nurse Corps

      The Army Nurse Corps consists of more than 11,000 men and women who care for military personnel, their families, and retired personnel. Corps members must be 21-42 years old and hold a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) or higher and a current, unrestricted nursing license. The Army Reserve accepts nurses with an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or diploma in nursing. Depending on the specific career field, nurses may also need an advanced degree, security clearance eligibility, and clinical experience.
    • Air Force

      The Air Force and the Air Force Reserve recruit nurses for many roles, including clinical, operating room, flight, and anesthetist nurses. Depending on the job, candidates typically need a nursing degree and an active license to practice. The Air Force Reserve accepts nurses with an ADN or diploma, while the Air Force requires a BSN at minimum. Some specific roles require additional education and training. For example, flight nurses must pass a physical fitness test.

    Why Become a Military Nurse?

    As with any nursing career, there are pros and cons to becoming a military nurse. Below are a few key points to consider.

    Advantages to Becoming a Military Nurse

    • check-circleVariety of practice settings
    • check-circleThe potential to travel and work around the world
    • check-circleSignificant benefits, which may include housing, low-cost insurance coverage, childcare, and loan repayment options
    • check-circleGenerous sign-on bonus

    Disadvantages to Becoming a Military Nurse

    • x-circlePotentially dangerous work environment
    • x-circleCommitment to a lifestyle, not just a job
    • x-circleFrequent relocation
    • x-circleRigorous requirements for training, physical fitness, and commitment length

    How to Become a Military Nurse

    Earn a BSN or graduate nurse degree

    Most military nursing positions require candidates to hold a BSN. Some branches accept applicants with an ADN or diploma if they have earned a master’s or doctorate.

    Pass the NCLEX exam to receive a registered nurse (RN) license

    Candidates must pass the National Council Licensure Exam for RNs (NCLEX-RN) to obtain licensure. Degree-holders may apply to take the exam through their state’s board of nursing.

    Complete required nursing experience

    Candidates may need clinical experience, depending on their prospective career and military branch. Most roles require one year of supervised experience.

    Choose a military branch and connect with a military recruiter to enlist

    Each military branch holds different requirements and opportunities. Review your options and contact your chosen branch’s recruiter to begin the enlistment process.

    Complete an officer basic leadership course (BOLC)

    Military nurses do not attend traditional boot camps. Instead, they take the BOLC to learn the basics of military life and protocols and receive leadership and soldier training. Length and location vary by branch.

    Certification Options for Military Nurses

    In addition to a nursing license, military nurses must hold additional life support certifications to prepare them for emergencies among specific populations. All military nurses need basic life support (BLS) certification, while some specialties may require acute cardiac life support (ACLS) and pediatric advanced life support (PALS) certifications.

    • BLS Certification

      This American Heart Association course trains first responders to use chest compressions, proper ventilation, and defibrillators in life-threatening emergencies in adults, children, and infants.
    • ACLS Certification

      Building on BLS skills, this course trains healthcare professionals to recognize and manage respiratory and cardiac arrest and deliver effective cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in emergencies.
    • PALS Certification

      Ideal for professionals working in emergency medicine, critical care, intensive care, and emergency medical services, PALS training teaches healthcare professionals to respond to emergencies involving children and infants.

    How Much Do Military Nurses Make?

    All military nurses are RNs. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports civilian nurses earn a median salary of $75,330, military pay structures vary considerably. Military nurse salaries are tied to individual rank, enlistment status, and certifications. Most new military nurses earn less than those in civilian roles.

    Military nurses enjoy an array of benefits in addition to their salary. These include paid time off, sign-on bonuses, and student loan repayment options. They may also qualify for tuition assistance, earning advanced degrees through the military at a discount.

    In general, civilian and military nurses alike are in high demand. The Bureau projects a steady 7% job growth rate for RNs through 2029.

    How Does the Military Ranking System Apply to Military Nurses?

    The military ranking system determines a military nurse’s salary potential. The system establishes base pay according to experience and ranking achievements.

    While all nurses are officers, specific rank and base pay depends on their prior military experience. Without military experience, nurses begin at the bottom of the rank structure, earning less each month than those with four or more years of experience as an enlisted officer.

    In addition to military experience, special incentives may increase pay. These incentives depend on commission type, work setting, and commitment length.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    How much do military nurses make?

    A military nurse’s earning potential depends on their branch, rank, and pay grade. The ranking structure strongly influences pay and responsibility and depends entirely on individual experience and performance. While a nurse without military experience may start by earning around $40,000 per year, they could earn up to $97,000 annually after 10 years of service. Base pay does not include other incentives and benefits, including low-cost insurance, tuition reimbursement, student loan repayment, and housing.

    How do you become a military nurse?

    Military nurses are nurses first and soldiers second. Candidates must hold a nursing degree and license, unless they are a student enlisting in the Navy Reserve. Prospective nurses can reach out to a recruiter to learn more about the application and enlistment process. Each military branch maintains its own processes, which may involve academic and physical testing, background checks, and interviews.

    Do army nurses carry weapons?

    Military nurses are considered medical personnel under the terms of the Geneva Convention, and therefore not permitted to engage in combat. However, in some cases, nurses carry weapons for defense. Members of the Army Nurse Corps deployed to combat areas typically carry weapons. Navy and Air Force nurses, on the other hand, receive weapons training but do not generally carry them.

    Do army nurses go to bootcamp?

    Because nurses are commissioned officers and not enlisted soldiers, they do not complete boot camp in the traditional sense. Instead, nurses attend a form of officer training school, the location and length of which vary by branch. During this training, nurses learn about military life and protocols, the military healthcare system, and general soldier and leadership skills.

    Resources for Military Nurses

    • U.S. Army

      The site offers information about various Army nursing roles and benefits. Visitors can read stories from individuals who have taken various paths toward serving in the Army. Interested nurses can also contact a recruiter through the site.
    • Navy Reserve Careers

      On this site, nurses can learn more about joining the Navy on a part-time basis, including Navy Reserve Sailors roles and responsibilities, how to qualify as a Navy Reserve Nurse, career benefits, and how to begin the enlistment process.
    • Air Force Nursing

      This resource for prospective Air Force nurses offers career information and explores the benefits of joining. Learn specifics about training and education, life in the military, and reaching out to a recruiter for more information.
    • Navy Nurse Corps

      The Navy Nurse Corps comprises full-time, active duty enlisted service members. Connect with a recruiter on the site, find out if you are qualified to join, and learn more about the role, responsibilities, training process, and education options.
    • Army Nurse Corps Association

      ANCA is a professional organization for current and former Army Nurse Corps members. The association sponsors scholarships, contributes to research, supports professional development, and provides nurses with networking opportunities. Eligible nurses can join online and access a wealth of resources, including job listings.

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