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Military Nurse Careers and Salary Outlook 2020

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Nurses with a passion for the U.S. military may want to learn how to become a military nurse. What is a military nurse and what does a military nurse do? This page provides an overview of the career, highlighting military nurse degree options, military nurse requirements, and military nurse salary data. Prospective nurses can review this page to explore training and certification information along with beneficial resources.

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What is a Military Nurse?

Military nurses are licensed registered nurses contracted to provide medical care to patients in military hospitals and clinics. They monitor wounds for infection, treat civilians, and prepare patients for surgery. These nurses can work in all branches of the U.S. military. They often care for military retirees and active duty military personnel and their dependents in peacetime settings. In wartime, these nurses provide healthcare pertinent to the health and well-being of military personnel and soldiers, often performing life-saving efforts.

  • What Do Military Nurses Do?

    Military nurses work within a military career but perform the duties of registered or practical nurses. They can work in different components of the U.S. military, including the Army, Navy, Air Force, and other specialized groups. Military nurses care for patients as though they would any other patient. However, unlike nurses in a traditional hospital setting, military nurses can be posted across the world or travel with the infantry, making it an exciting job for some. Prospective military nurses should understand that the position may cause emotional, mental, and physical stresses, as it can require duty in active war zones. Military nurses can encounter situations and illnesses that other American nurses may never see, but it can be a highly rewarding career.

    Military nurses are vital to all military branches. They treat wounded soldiers and military personnel and provide medical treatment to the families of service members. Military nurses work in war zones, setting up military triage efforts and performing critical wound-care and life-saving medical treatment.

    Military nurses also work in preoperative settings, administering anesthesia to patients. They prescribe medicine and provide emergency care to victims involved in natural disasters. Additionally, military nurses participate in humanitarian relief efforts involved with the U.S. military and provide vaccinations to children in developing countries.

  • Where Do Military Nurses Work?

    Military nurses must commit to at least three years of service. Typically, every three years, military nurses transfer to a new region. These nurses regularly travel all over the world to help with emergency situations. However, most nurses are stationed at government and military facilities. Some military nurses work in makeshift facilities near the frontlines within combat units.

    Most military nurses work in military hospitals, military clinics, V.A. hospitals and clinics, and makeshift or pop-up nursing facilities in and near combat zones.

  • Skills That Could Affect Military Nurse Salaries

    Since military nurses must meet the requirements set by their chosen military branch, they must be in excellent physical shape. Military branches require individuals to meet certain physical requirements and complete boot camp, incorporating rigorous physical activity. These nurses should be able to handle stress well and work effectively in high-pressure situations.

    Military nurses must feel comfortable making life-saving decisions quickly. They should demonstrate the ability to work efficiently and swiftly. Due to the unique demands of military situations, these nurses must function and work well with little sleep and boast high levels of endurance and stamina. Military nurses should possess strong communication skills and feel comfortable working with other nurses and patients to provide the highest level of care.

How to Become a Military Nurse

Aspiring military nurses must be U.S. citizens with a bachelor of science in nursing. Military nurses wanting to work in the Army Reserve can explore opportunities with an associate degree in nursing. Completion of either degree allows graduates to pursue registered nurse (RN) licensure, which they must possess before enlisting in the military if they want to practice as a military nurse.

After earning their RN license, individuals can then choose their preferred military branch and undergo that branch’s enlistment process, including any necessary training or physical requirements.


To become a military nurse, individuals first need a bachelor of science in nursing. Earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing typically takes full-time students four years to complete. Some colleges and universities offer online or hybrid opportunities for bachelor’s students, allowing them more flexibility as they earn their degree.

While the military prefers to enlist nurses who hold a bachelor of science degree, the Army Reserve accepts nurses with an associate degree in nursing. However, these nurses must earn a BSN before being promoted to captain.

Training and Certification

Military nurses must graduate from a nursing program approved by their state’s board of nursing. They must also pass the NCLEX-RN exam, earning official registered nurse licensure. To obtain licensure, individuals can earn an associate degree in nursing or a bachelor of science in nursing. Upon passing the state board exam, individuals can obtain their RN license and apply to their chosen military branch. Once accepted into their military branch, individuals can sign the appropriate contracts to be sworn in.

Military nurses do not need to obtain specific certification. However, these nurses must undergo training required of their chosen military branch. These requirements vary by branch. During their degree, students can explore internship opportunities to gain valuable in-the-field experience. However, due to the military’s confidential nature, learners can’t explore opportunities specific to their chosen career path.

Military Nurse Salaries and Job Growth

How much does a military nurse make? Military nurse salary data varies depending on nurses’ location and experience. Military nursing exists as a smaller specialty for registered nurses. These professionals earn a national median salary of $63,263. Los Angeles, California, pays nurses the most, offering an average salary of $86,670. Other high-paying cities for registered nurses include New York City, Houston, Chicago, and Dallas with salaries ranging from $63,793 to $82,874.

Entry-level registered nurses earn an average salary of $53,736 while more experienced nurses earn $72,001. California offers both the highest pay and the most jobs for registered nurses while South Dakota boasts the highest concentration of jobs. Professionals who want to work in the industry with the highest salary opportunities can look for jobs in the pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry. The general and surgical medical hospital industry offers the highest employment level and concentration of jobs for registered nurses.

Highest Salary Locations for Registered Nurses
National Median $63,263
Los Angeles, California $86,670
New York, New York $82,874
Houston, Texas $71,487
Chicago, Illinois $65,793
Dallas, Texas $63,793

Source: PayScale

Median Salary for Registered Nurses by Career Experience

  • Entry Level: $53,736
  • Early Career: $59,439
  • Mid Career: $65,530
  • Experienced: $69,027
  • Late Career: $72,001
  • Source: PayScale

    Related Job Salaries
    Medical Assistant Certified Nurse Assistant Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Registered Nurse (RN), Emergency Room Registered Nurse (RN), Critical Care
    $32,840 $27,891 $43,528 $66,391 $72,656

    Source: PayScale

    Military Nurse Resources

    • Military Health System Functioning as the enterprise within the U.S. Department of Defense to provide healthcare to retired, reserve, and active duty U.S. military personnel and their dependents, MHS works through the TRICARE health plan. The system aims to ensure that all active and reserve medical personnel possess the proper training to provide quality medical care around the world.
    • Defense Health Agency DHA is a joint, integrated combat support agency that allows the U.S. Army, Air Force, and Navy medical services to provide ready medical force to combatant commands in wartime and peacetime. The agency supports affordable and integrated health services of the highest quality and implements shared services while simultaneously adopting proven practice to improve care coordination.
    • Institute for Defense & Government Advancement IDGA functions as an information-focused, non-partisan organization committed to promoting new ideas and developments in defense and public service through networking events and live training opportunities along with an online community portal. The organization’s live events include training programs led by military, government, and associated industries that host speaker panels. These educational events allow professionals to network with their peers.
    • Job Search Job seekers can use this site’s job search function to browse job opportunities by title or specialty. Users can also search for jobs based on location, inputting distance parameters to ensure they only see opportunities within a certain distance from their desired location.
    • American Nurses Association ANA functions as the nation’s leading organization for registered nurses. The organization aims to improve healthcare quality for all and is the strongest voice for the registered nursing profession. Boasting members from all 50 states, ANA represents the interests of all registered nurses in the country, supporting them throughout their careers and advocating for healthcare issues that affect both the public and nurses.
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