Caring for Your Country: A Closer Look at the Role of a Military Nurse

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You have all the signs of someone who could excel in the healthcare field: an interest in medicine, a passion to help others and a drive to pursue a career that’s both fulfilling and practical. A career as a registered nurse (RN) looks more appealing every day.

Deciding to pursue a nursing career isn’t your only decision to make, however. RNs can choose from a wide range of career options and specialties that are the best fit for their skills and interests. One of those options you may not have considered is working as a military nurse.

Since the founding of our country, nurses have played a key role in caring for the men and women on the front lines. You’re considering joining the ranks of this vital profession, but first you need to be sure you understand all the details of the job. This in-depth look at the world of military nursing will help you decide if this nursing career path is the right option for you.

What is a military nurse?

Military nurses are RNs who serve in the United States Nurse Corps. Each major branch of the military—Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard—has its own Nurse Corps of RNs who provide care for military personnel and their families. Military nurses may also treat diplomats and victims of natural disasters. As part of the military, BSN-RNs in the Nurse Corps start as commissioned officers and can advance through military ranks as they increase their skills and experience.

Just like their civilian counterparts, military nurses spend much of their time involved in direct patient care. They assess patients, maintain accurate medical records, administer medication and collaborate with other health specialists to promote the well-being of their patients. Military nurses also have opportunities to specialize in a certain area of medicine and to increase their responsibilities as they move forward in their career.

Where do military nurses work?

Work environment is one of the biggest and most obvious differences between military nursing and civilian RN careers. Military nurses are needed wherever military personnel are located, which can include active war zones. Nurses who serve in the military should be prepared for the possibility of working in dangerous or high-stress situations.

Being a military nurse doesn’t always mean treating patients on the front lines, however. Military nurses also care for patients on military bases, both on U.S. soil and abroad, and in clinics, military hospitals and global response centers. Although military nurses don’t get to choose where they’re stationed, one of the potential perks of this nursing career is the chance to live and work in different parts of the world.

What are a military nurse’s daily job duties?

The daily duties of a military nurse can vary widely depending on the specific work setting. Military nurses who are stationed in hospitals, disaster areas or active war zones will likely encounter more emergency situations and trauma cases than civilian RNs. They may need to triage patients according to who has the greatest need, and they should be prepared to stabilize and treat patients with critical injuries, such as gunshot wounds or loss of blood.

Some daily job duties are the same for nurses across the board. All military nurses will need to maintain accurate medical records and work together with others on the healthcare team. Nurses working at a military clinic will have many of the same job duties as a civilian RN. This includes tasks like assessing and monitoring patients, operating and maintaining medical equipment and educating patients about their treatment plan.

What qualities do military nurses need?

It takes a special kind of person to devote their lives to caring for others, and that holds even truer when it comes to military nurses. As military officers, these RNs must live up to the high standards of their military branch in addition to all the usual requirements of a medical professional.

Having qualities like these are a sign that you might have what it takes to be a military nurse:

  • Ability to stay calm under pressure
  • Decision-making
  • Communication
  • Critical-thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Leadership
  • Integrity
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Respect for authority

What is the salary and advancement potential for military nurses?

Military salaries are determined by rank, and that includes nurses. Those in the Nurse Corps are commissioned officers and can expect a starting annual salary of $58,000, according to Nurse.org.1 Although this is less than the $70,000 median annual salary the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported for civilian nurses in 2017, working for the military does come with additional benefits.2 Military RNs may enjoy low-cost or free healthcare plans, housing allowances, student loan repayment, generous retirement plans and additional stipends and bonuses. Those who are deployed may also be eligible for hazard pay.

Military nurses have ample opportunities for advancing their careers as they gain experience. Moving up in rank is the number-one way for a military RN to increase their salary. As they rise in rank, they can choose between three advancement tracks: clinical, staff and executive leadership.

What education is required for military nurses?

The military is known for making its officers meet rigorous criteria, and members of the Nurse Corps are no exception. Because military nurses are commissioned officers, they must have at minimum a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN). This may seem like a lot of education, but remember that student loan repayment is one of the benefits of becoming a military nurse.

Then, like civilian nurses, they must pass the NCLEX exam to become a registered nurse. Nurses must then complete a Commissioned Officer course to introduce them to military life. Military RNs should also be certified in Basic Life Support, and they may choose to pursue other specialty certifications related to their area of practice.

Nursing on the front lines

Not just anyone is cut out for life as a military nurse. If you’re interested in pursuing a career that allows you to care for the men and women serving our country, then the first step is to become a registered nurse. Learn more about how to get started with our article, “How to Become a Registered Nurse: Your 4-Step Guide.”

1Nurse.org, Career Guide Series: Military Nurse, https://nurse.org/resources/military-army-nurse/#salary-and-benefits-for-military-nurses
2Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [career information accessed October 11, 2018]. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and include workers at all levels of education and experience. Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Ashley Brooks

Ashley is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She believes in the power of words and knowledge and enjoys using both to encourage others on their learning journeys

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