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How to Become a Military Nurse
Becoming a nurse is not a job for the faint of heart. Nurses play a critical role not only in civilian healthcare systems, but also in the armed forces. Even if you’re not sure if military nursing is for you, it can’t hurt to know the facts and if it is an option that interests you. So, let’s get into the details together!
Going to college and becoming an officer
Whether you want to enter the military right away, or work for a bit in the civilian world, college is a must in your nursing journey. As a college graduate that holds a bachelor’s degree, you will enter the military as an officer, rather than as enlisted. You will begin your time at the lowest officer rank, a second lieutenant (O-1). Throughout your service you’ll be able to work your way up in rank. So, let’s get into your different college options to see how you can become a military nurse!
One of the first ways you can become a military nurse is to join ROTC. ROTC stands for Reserve Officer Training Corps. It is a program that college students can participate in during their time in college and upon graduation can commission as officers into the United States Military. As a nursing major in ROTC, you may receive the benefit of:
- Having your school paid for
- Complete military training alongside your college course work
- A guaranteed job upon college graduation
There are separate ROTC programs for each major branch of the military, the Air Force, Army and Navy, each branch will have their own scholarships that you should look into. Be sure to explore each branch carefully.
Attend a military academy
Students interested in becoming a military nurse can also attend either West Point (Army), the Air Force Academy, or the Naval Academy. These three academies won’t require you to pay any tuition. When you graduate you will be committed to serving in your prospective branch, just like you would in any ROTC program.
Attend college and then join
If making a commitment right when you go to college feels like a little much for you, you should keep in mind that you can attend college, work as a nurse for a bit and then decide to join the military. If you decide to go this route, you can decide for yourself when you would like to begin serving. So, if you’d like to work for just a year, or maybe even a few years, that’s completely fine. When you do decide to serve, you will attend an officer training program for the branch you’d like to join. Officer training programs can last from 5-10 weeks depending on the branch you join.
What does a military nurse do?
Working as a military nurse really can be quite similar to working as a regular nurse in a civilian job. Some military nurses will work in hospitals on military bases treating military members and their families. These nurses may even get to specialize in something like pediatrics, labor and delivery or oncology.
Military nurses may also be stationed overseas. This can mean being stationed at a U.S. military base in another country, or being deployed and serving in a combat zone to treat service members who are injured on the frontlines.
How long do you have to serve in the military?
How long you are required to serve in the military depends on how you decide to go about joining. If you choose to go through an ROTC program or go through officer training school after graduating college, your commitment may be somewhere between 4-6 years. If you decide to attend a military academy, you may be looking at a longer commitment. It’s important to speak with a recruiter, someone from a military academy or someone in charge of a college ROTC program to make sure you get the most accurate information you can about your specific situation.
Salary and benefits
Unsurprisingly, being a military nurse can promise a pretty competitive salary and benefits. Just like working in the civilian sector, nursing salaries in the military can change based on where you are stationed and in what capacity you are working. However, in the military your pay will also be based on your rank. This means that in some cases you may be able to make more money as a nurse in the military than in a civilian job.
Additionally, you’ll likely receive benefits such as a housing allowance, money for school, insurance and more.
Room for advancement
It’s also important to note that if you become a nurse in the military, you will still be able to continue advancing in your career as well. Meaning that if your goal is to become a nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, flight nurse, a critical care nurse or really anything else that civilian nurses can become, you will be able to do so as well!
What about the other branches?
You may have realized that we’ve talked about the Air Force, Army, and Navy in this article, but we haven’t talked about the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard, or the Space Force. These branches do not have their own full medical sectors. This means that if you’d like to serve the Marines or as a member of the Coast Guard, you would need to join the Navy. Similarly, if you’d like to serve members of the Space Force, you would need to join the Air Force. However, serving in one of those capacities may not be guaranteed to you.
What if you are already in the military?
If you are already in the military, but are not working as a nurse, that certainly does not mean that you can’t also start your journey to becoming a military nurse. For more information you should speak with individuals above you who may be able to help you make the transition, as well as anyone who you may already know are working as nurses in the military. As an example, you can look on the Air Force’s nursing page to hear stories from various nurses, some of which talk about their journey from enlisted, to officer and nurse.
Should you become a military nurse?
We obviously can not give you an answer to this question because it’s something only you can answer. However, maybe we can help you begin the decision making process. Take a look at some of the questions and points below.
- Being a military nurse may mean moving across the country, or overseas. Is moving something you think that you would be open to and willing to do?
- While not every service member will be deployed, it’s important to understand that it is something that may very well be asked of you during your service. Take some time to think about what deploying means to you, and speak to loved ones who may also be affected by it.
- Nursing can be a demanding career whether you are in the military or not. Take some time to think about your thoughts and feelings about nursing. What brought you to want to become a nurse?
United States Public Health Service
While the USPHS is not technically a branch of the US military, it is still a great option to know about if you are looking for a way to serve a greater purpose with your nursing degree. The Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service is dedicated to providing healthcare in a multitude of ways across the U.S. and beyond. Through them you can also receive money for school and other benefits.