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How to Become a Military Nurse

Maura Deering, J.D.
Updated September 26, 2023
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If you've been curious about serving in the Air Force, Army, or Navy and wondered how to become a military nurse, this guide has the answers.
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If you’re interested in nursing and joining the U.S. Armed Forces, a career as a military nurse may be for you. Military nurses enjoy opportunities for potential travel and postings in different countries, sign-on bonuses, and benefits like childcare, discounted insurance, housing, and student loan repayment plans.

Find out what a military nurse is, the steps to becoming a military nurse, how to get licensed and earn certification, and typical workplace environments.

What Is a Military Nurse?

As members of the Armed Forces, military nurses serve in the Air Force, Army Nurse Corps, or Navy Nurse Corps. Each branch has its own requirements, as discussed in the next sections.

Registered nurses work (RNs) on military bases, providing care to service members and their families. Some may join healthcare teams that deploy to combat zones or humanitarian missions. Military nurses work on ships or aircraft, but most care for patients in military clinics, hospitals, and trauma centers.

Steps to Becoming a Military Nurse

  1. 1

    Earn a bachelor of science (BSN) degree.

    Because military nurses join the Armed Forces as commissioned officers, they must have at least a BSN. BSNs typically take four years to complete. Associate degree in nursing (ADN) graduates can enroll in an RN-to-BSN degree program and earn their bachelor’s in 9-24 months.

  2. 2

    Pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to receive RN licensure.

    State nursing boards require a passing score on the NCLEX-RN exam to become licensed as an RN. Air Force and Army nurses must hold RN licenses when they submit their applications.

  3. 3

    Gain work experience or choose to enlist.

    Once you’ve earned your degree and license, you can choose to gain experience as a civilian RN, then join the military as a commissioned officer. You can also opt to enlist as a new nurse. It takes about a year from the time you apply to the military until acceptance.

    To find a civilian RN job, connect with contacts made during your clinical rotations, your school’s alumni network, and career advising office. To enlist, talk to a healthcare recruiter for the branch you are interested in joining.

  4. 4

    Complete a basic officer leadership course.

    Military nurses aren’t required to go to bootcamp, but they do attend basic officer leaders courses (BOLCs), which prepare them to become commissioned officers. Training consists of classroom instruction and fieldwork.

    Officer training courses may take 5-12 weeks, depending on the service branch.

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Military Nurse Education

As commissioned officers, military nurses need BSN degrees. An ADN program can still be worthwhile as it offers a short path to getting an RN license and work experience. It also serves as a stepping stone to an accelerated nursing bachelor’s through admission into an RN-to-BSN track.

The military will often cover tuition for nurse education, and there are military-friendly schools that offer additional benefits.

ADN Degree

Nurses who want to enter the workforce quickly often opt for an ADN, which qualifies them to take the NCLEX-RN exam and become licensed. Military nurses must earn a BSN and can do so in an RN-to-BSN program.

An ADN can save money and time; students pay lower community college tuition for the first two years and can complete their BSNs at a college or university in 9-24 months.

  1. 1

    Admission Requirements

    High school diploma or GED certificate; coursework in the humanities and sciences; official transcripts; 2.0 GPA; ACT or SAT scores

  2. 2

    Program Curriculum

    Introduction to nursing; health assessments; microbiology and immunology; entry-level nursing skills; clinical experience

  3. 3

    Time to Complete

    Two years

  4. 4

    Skills Learned

    Basic patient care; communication; critical thinking; organization

BSN Degree

Armed Forces nurses serve as commissioned officers, which requires a bachelor’s degree. Traditional BSNs follow a four-year college or university curriculum, with courses either in-person or online. Accelerated and nursing bridge programs cater to non-nursing bachelor’s degree-holders and those with ADNs.

BSNs also qualify graduates for nursing master’s or doctorate nursing programs.

  1. 1

    Admission Requirements

    High school or college transcripts; 2.5-3.0 GPA; ACT or SAT scores

  2. 2

    Program Curriculum

    Anatomy; leadership and management; nursing informatics; pathophysiology; pharmacology; research and statistics; clinical and lab experiences

  3. 3

    Time to Complete

    Four years

  4. 4

    Skills Learned

    Nursing care for adults, children, and families; clinical and leadership skills; case management; specialization areas

Military Nurse Licensure and Certification

Nurses in the Armed Forces must hold BSNs and RN licenses. Military nurse certification in a specialization like acute care, psychology mental health, or surgical nursing is an optional step for BSN-holders that can lead to more opportunities.

The military actively recruits advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). Becoming an APRN requires a graduate nursing degree and national board certification in an advanced area like anesthesiology or critical care.

State nursing boards issue RN licenses to those who pass the NCLEX-RN, and renewal requires continuing education with specific criteria varying by state. An APRN license and renewal require current board certification and continuing education credits.

Working as a Military Nurse

Military nurses are in demand, particularly those with advanced nursing degrees and certifications. The best way to find a job is to speak with a recruiter for the military branch you’re interested in. Common work settings include military clinics and hospitals, where nurses care for service members and their families, and trauma centers, where they treat combat wounds and perform critical care nursing.

RNs in general make median annual salaries of $77,600 and can expect a projected 9% job growth increase during 2020-2030. Military nurse salaries follow a schedule based on rank and years of service. Army RNs earn between $58,000 and $92,000 per year, as per Payscale in June 2022, and they can also receive $30,000 signing bonuses and generous benefits.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Military Nurse

question-mark-circleHow long does it take to become a military nurse?

It takes about 3-5 years to become a military nurse, including earning a nursing degree or degrees, becoming licensed, and gaining work experience. This time period can also include sitting for a certification exam.

question-mark-circleAre military nurses in demand?

The demand for military nurses is evidenced by the number of signing bonuses offered. APRN-level nurses are actively recruited, along with specialists in critical care, emergency trauma, gynecology/obstetrics, mental health, and perioperative.

question-mark-circleIs it difficult to become a military nurse?

Becoming a military nurse entails earning a bachelor’s degree and an RN license, but with the additional step of completing officer’s training. While not more difficult than civilian nursing, it takes time and dedication.

question-mark-circleDo military nurses get paid well?

Military nurses are paid according to their rank and years of service. On the surface, military nurse pay may appear lower than civilian nurses, but salaries increase with signing bonuses, student loan repayment for nurses, living stipends, potential hazard pay, and benefits packages.

Page last reviewed June 17, 2022

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