Nurse Types / Military Nurse
A military nurse is a member of the armed forces who provides health care to military personnel and their families. Military nurses work in various settings, including hospitals, clinics, and field hospitals. They are some of the most highly trained nurses in the world—and they have incredibly rewarding careers!
If you’re considering becoming a nurse with any branch of our military services, keep reading! This post explains what it takes, including education requirements, and links to help you get started right away on the path towards becoming a military nurse.
- What is a military nurse?
- What do military nurses do?
- Where do military nurses work?
- What are specific types of military nurses?
- How do you become a military nurse?
- What are additional requirements of military nurses?
- Military career advancement
- What are some things to consider before joining the military?
What is a military nurse?
A military nurse is a member of the armed forces who provides health care to military personnel and their families. Nurses in the military are responsible for providing care to patients under the direction of physicians. They provide basic medical services such as patient assessments and treatment of injuries or illnesses.
Nurses also provide specialized care such as helping patients who have undergone surgery or who have had injuries sustained in battle. Military nurses may be assigned to one of several types of units depending on their specialty area of practice.
Qualities of a successful military nurse
A successful career as a military nurse takes special qualities. Caring for soldiers and veterans requires empathy. Also, working in war zones can be stressful. Military nurses must be compassionate and able to deal with high-stress situations.
What do military nurses do?
Military nurses are responsible for providing medical care to military members and their families. They often work in military or veterans’ hospitals and clinics but may also provide emergency medical care on board ships or planes.
Military nurses provide a wide range of services, including:
- Preventive health care
- Emergency medical care
- Mental health care
- Rehabilitative care
- Obstetric (prenatal) care
- Pediatric care
A day in the life of a military nurse
Like their civilian counterparts, military nurses spend most of their time caring for patients and families. A day in the life of a military nurse will vary depending on the nurse’s specialty and location. Most days include:
- Triage or assessments
- Administering medications and treatments
- Educating patients and families
Military nurses provide care for a wide range of conditions, from minor injuries and illnesses to life-threatening conditions such as heart attacks. They also assist with surgeries, births, and pediatric visits, as well as provide testing for specific diseases like tuberculosis or influenza.
They make sure soldiers and sailors get their vaccines, take care of their wounds, and treat them if they are sick.
Where do military nurses work?
Military nurses work in a variety of settings. They may be stationed at a military base, hospital, clinic, or medical center.
What are specific types of military nurses?
Military nurses can work in one of the branches of the armed forces, including:
Expert advice from nurses like you
How do you become a military nurse?
Step 1 – Become a registered nurse
Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing
Becoming a registered nurse in the military requires a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. The BSN is a four-year program that includes both classroom learning and clinical experience.
One way to earn your BSN is to enroll directly into a bachelor’s degree program at an accredited institution. However, if you are currently enrolled in or considering an associate degree program, you will need to go a different route.
Nurses with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and nursing experience can enroll in an RN-to-BSN program. This is typically a 1–2 year program of additional classroom instruction to get you to the bachelor degree level. You’ll complete courses on research and evidence-based practice.
Pass the NCLEX exam
Once you have your bachelor’s degree, the next step is passing the National Council Licensure Examination for NCLEX-RN. This computerized exam is required in all states to get a nursing license.
Step 2 – Accumulate experience
Experience is a key factor in becoming a military nurse. You must accumulate one year of clinical experience before enlisting in the military as a nurse. After graduation, you can gain valuable experience through:
- Volunteering with your community’s Medical Reserve Corps
- Shadowing in a specialty area
- Civilian nursing jobs
After completing a nursing degree, you should practice at a hospital or clinic before joining the military. The military branches require 1-3 years of experience in your desired area. Previous work experience will set you apart from other applicants. Also, your training will be useful when transitioning to your new military career.
When the requirements are met, the next step is to enlist.
To be “enlisted” means you have successfully become a service member and taken an oath of U.S. military service. The enlistment process usually begins with speaking to a military recruiter.
After enlistment, you will be assigned to a base and given a rank based on your education, experience, and training level.
Talk to recruiter
When you are ready to move forward, find a recruiter. This person will be your guide on the path to your military career. They’ll take care of all the paperwork and make sure your application process is organized.
Ask questions! Your recruiter will be able to help you understand the process. And they will explain what life in the military looks like, and help you plan for your life as a military officer.
With your recruiter’s help, you can apply for military nursing programs. Each branch has separate requirements, and the application process will be different in each case.
After you apply, a military nursing board will determine your eligibility for service as a nurse in the armed forces.
Complete Basic Officer Leadership Course (BOLC)
Basic Officer Leadership Course (BOLC) is a basic training program for new officers. It typically lasts between three and five months. BOLC teaches you how to lead in the military.
BOLC is designed to prepare newly commissioned officers from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines for their first assignments as platoon leaders. It is a time of intense instruction on military protocols and regulations. Successful graduates receive certificates and the skills necessary for success as future leaders in the military.
Step 3 – Obtain certifications
Although there isn’t a nursing certification specific to the military, nurses can still obtain certifications in their specialties.
For example, a military officer working as a perioperative nurse in an Army hospital could become certified in perioperative nursing. Or, a military nurse working in a psychiatric clinic for veterans could be certified in mental health-psychiatric nursing.
All of the certifications available to civilian nurses are open to military nurses. In fact, being specialized in your field may also make your application for military service more attractive.
To see the current nursing certifications available to nurses in 2022, check out Incredible Health’s list!
What are additional requirements of military nurses?
Military nurses must meet additional requirements, including:
- Qualifying tests
- Age, height, and weight requirements that are branch-specific
- Hearing and vision
- Medical history
- Background checks
- Drug screening
In addition to entrance requirements listed above, military nurses may also have to earn and maintain valid CPR certifications, including basic life support (BLS), pediatric advanced life support (PALS), or advanced cardiovascular life support (ACLS) certification.
What are the salary and career outlooks for military nurses?
Each service branch has slightly different names for their respective ranks, but the pay grades are the same. In all branches, the letter “O” (for Officer) is placed in front of a number to determine pay grade. The number corresponds to how high the officer ranks. Here are the rankings in order.
Military Pay Grades (salaries listed according to Army/Navy rank)
|O-1 Second Lieutenant or O-1 Ensign||Starting pay $3,477/mo - max $4,376/mo with over 10 years' experience|
|O-2 First Lieutenant or O-2 Lieutenant Jr. Grade (J.G.)||Starting pay $4,007/mo - max $5,544/mo with over 10 years' experience|
|O-3 Captain or O-3 Lieutenant||Starting pay $4,637/mo - max $7,544/mo with over 14 years' experience|
|O-4 Major or O-4 Lieutenant Commander||Starting pay $5,274/mo - max $8,805/mo with over 18 years' experience|
|O-5 Lieutenant Colonel or O-5 Commander||Starting pay $6,112/mo - max $10,384/mo with over 22 years' experience|
|O-6 Colonel or O-6 Captain||Starting pay $7,332/mo - max $12,980/mo with over 30 years' experience|
|O-7 Brigadier General or O-7 Admiral (Commodore)||Starting pay $9,668/mo - max $14,446/mo with over 30 years' experience|
|O-8 Major General or O-8 Admiral (Upper Half)||Starting pay $11,636/mo - max $16,774/mo with over 34 years' experience|
|O-9 Lieutenant General or O-9 Vice Admiral||Starting pay $16,445/mo - max $16,975/mo with over 24 years' experience|
|O-10 Chief of Staff (General) Guard or O-10 Fleet Admiral/Commandant of Coast Guard||Starting pay $16,975/mo - max $16,975/mo with over 22 years' experience|
Military nurses get more than a generous salary. They get comprehensive benefits including health insurance and retirement options from the military.
Benefits also include:
- Paid vacation and holidays
- Sick leave
- Education reimbursement
- Sign on bonus
- Travel opportunities
In addition to basic pay and benefits, military nurses get significant allowances for specific needs, such as food or housing.
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Military nurse career advancement
Military nurses are promoted through the ranks based on performance and time served. Currently, an Army officer is promoted to first lieutenant automatically 18 months after commissioning, and to captain automatically after 48 months, no matter where they’ve progressed in their training.
In the Marine Corps and Air Force, you will be promoted after 24 months of service. These promotions are based on what’s called the “time in service” (TIS) requirement.
As you rise through the ranks, promotions become more competitive and the military looks at your performance more carefully.
The U.S. military is one of the most highly respected organizations in the country. As a military nurse, you will gain great fulfillment from being well-respected by your peers. You also get satisfaction from knowing that you are making a difference each day by serving those who defend our nation.
What are some things to consider before joining the military?
Becoming a military nurse can be very rewarding and very demanding. You may be away on deployment for months at a time. You may work long hours that are physically and emotionally demanding.
There are many questions to ask yourself before signing a contract:
- What do you want to get out of your time in the military?
- Do you think you can serve out your enlistment?
- Will the military pay for my education?
- How are you at taking orders?
There are several ways to advance your career as a military nurse.
One path is to take on more responsibility within the military. For example, if you were working at a clinic in Washington, DC, you could accept an assignment in an overseas location to move up the ranks.
Military nurses can also consider new military opportunities outside of nursing. Your squadron base or hospital may have openings in administration or research that could be of interest to you.
For more information on the Army Nurse Corps, visit http://healthcare.goarmy.com/nurse.
For more information on the Navy, visit http://www.navy.com/traincareer/nurse.jsp and http://www.navy-reserve-jobs.com/opportunities.html.
The minimum commitment is three years.
Each branch has different requirements and unique benefits. Explore the options and talk with a recruiter to find out which branch is best for you.
In the Army and Air Force, nurses are ranked from O-1 Second Lieutenant to O-10 Chief General. In the Navy/Coast Guard, nurses are ranked from O-1 Ensign to O-10 Fleet Admiral.
Nurses join the military as officers. They do not have to attend basic training. However, they do go through a special leadership training called Basic Officer Leadership Course (BOLC)
Yes, the military may pay for nursing school with a commitment to service.
Yes, in some cases, military nurses may serve in combat zones.
- “Army promotion timeline for enlisted officers”. operationmilitarykids.org. Accessed October 15, 2022.
- “Is military nursing for you?” journals.lww.com. Accessed October 5, 2022.
- “Military Compensation.” militarypay.defense.gov. Accessed October 5, 2022.
- “Military Ranks.” military-ranks.org. Accessed October 5, 2022.
- “Understanding Military Skill Sets.” recruitmilitary.com. Accessed October 5, 2022.
- Image from Andrey Kremkov on Unsplash