How to Become a Military Nurse

Do you want to work around the world and provide humanitarian support while protecting and serving the nation? Learn how to become a military nurse.

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by Alison Plaut

Published August 12, 2022

Reviewed by Shrilekha Deshaies, MSN, CCRN, RN

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How to Become a Military Nurse
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A career as a military nurse can be meaningful and exciting. Military nurses can have opportunities to travel around the country or around the world. For people who want high-pressure, high-risk jobs, military nursing can be an exciting career.

Military nurses help treat both injuries incurred in the line of duty and everyday injuries and diseases. A military nurse holds many of the same responsibilities as a civilian nurse. This can include treating and monitoring wounds, administering medicine, preparing patients for surgery, and following up with care.

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Ready to start your journey?

What Does a Military Nurse Do?

The role of a military nurse involves providing medical care to injured or sick military personnel. These professionals usually work in hospitals or clinics on base. Unlike many other careers, military nursing duties can change based on world events.

During wartime, military nurses can be deployed to battle zones to treat wounded soldiers or set up military triage. This can be an exciting, high-stress, and physically demanding work situation that involves traveling over difficult terrain.

During peacetime, military nurses provide care for service members and veterans, as well as other humanitarian services.

The military offers opportunities for educational advancement, healthcare benefits, and the opportunity to rise in rank. Military nurses can also change careers and pursue civilian nursing opportunities including registered nurse (RN) or nurse practitioner roles.

Military Nurse Responsibilities

Military nurses protect and serve the nation through care to service members and outreach services.

For example, military nurses may be asked to provide vaccinations or medical care in developing nations. They can also serve in humanitarian disaster relief situations and coordinate with other relief workers. Military nurses' responsibilities can include:

  • Providing care to ill or injured service members in base hospitals and clinics
  • Caring for service members in battlefield triage or in war zones
  • Providing humanitarian relief in the case of man-made or natural disasters
  • Offering vaccination and medical care to children and at-risk populations around the world
  • Working in veterans hospitals or military research facilities

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What Are the Steps to Become a Military Nurse?

Becoming a military nurse requires a minimum of a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN). Some military nurses will go on to earn master's or graduate degrees. Military nurses can also choose to gain civilian nursing experience before enlisting. Here are the detailed steps:

Step 1: Earn a BSN

Military nurses will need to earn a minimum of a BSN. This usually takes four years of full-time study. Military nurses are commissioned officers, so an associate degree in nursing is not sufficient.

Nursing students can get career advice in college from career counselors who can help them when choosing a major. Nursing students interested in enlisting in the military may choose to take additional science or psychology courses in preparation for this career.

Bachelor's in nursing students benefit from soft skills for the military like flexibility, time management, and stress management. Popular BSN specializations that are useful in the military include:

  • Psychiatric mental health
  • Pain management
  • Critical care
  • Perioperative care

The cost of a BSN varies by school and program. Affordable RN-to-BSN programs for associate degree holders to earn a BSN cost $100-$600 or more per credit.

Step 2: Pass the NCLEX Exam

The National Council of Licensure Examination (NCLEX) includes two standardized tests nurses can take for licensure. The NCLEX-RN is for registered nurses, and the NCLEX-PN is for licensed practical and vocational nurses. BSN graduates who want to become military nurses need to take the NCLEX-RN.

The NCLEX exam can have between 75 and 145 questions, including 15 pretest items. The maximum allowed time for the test is five hours, including all breaks. The test covers pharmacological therapies, reduction of risk potential, basic comfort and care, and psychological adaptation.

Students can prepare to take the exam by reviewing exam material and practicing test questions.

Step 3: Obtain RN Licensure

Nurses who want to enter the military as a direct commission must hold an RN license. RN licensure requirements vary by state. Licensing fees typically cost $100-$150 in most states. States usually ask for an application with the payment.

Degree requirements to obtain an RN license also vary by state. Many states only require a minimum of an associate degree. Applicants should check their state's requirements.

Step 4: Gain Civilian Nursing Experience or Enlist as a Graduate Nurse

Nurses can enlist directly after earning a BSN as a graduate nurse. However, many nurses choose to get a civilian job first because it may make the transition to military nursing easier. Nursing experience for new graduates can help increase a nurse's confidence and experience in different critical settings.

Getting a job after college and working in a civilian setting helps nurses become proficient at skills such as:

  • Empathizing with patients and attending to their emotional needs
  • Taking detailed healthcare histories
  • Coordinating patient care with doctors and specialists
  • Conducting physical exams

According to Payscale, RNs make an average base salary of $68,600, as of July 2022.

What to Know Before Becoming a Military Nurse

Accreditation

An accredited nursing program assures both students and potential employers that national education standards are being met. Accredited online degree programs must meet the same standards as on-campus programs.

Some certifications or licenses also must meet national accreditation standards. For example, military nurses must earn the RN licensure.

Cost

The cost of a bachelor's in nursing usually ranges from $40,000-$80,000 or more. A master's degree in nursing can cost an additional $4,500-$13,000 or more, even in the most affordable online master's in nursing programs. Online degree programs can sometimes be more affordable than on-campus programs.

True program costs will be higher as fees, transportation, and room and board can add to your total. And also, figure in hidden college costs like books, lab fees, furnishings, a car, off-campus food, or Greek life activities. Nurses must also pass the NCLEX exam, which costs $200.

Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for registered nurses is $77,600, as of May 2021. For all RNs, the median annual salary ranges from $59,450 for the lowest 10% of earners to $120,250 for the highest 10% of earners.

Military nurses can advance in one of three career tracks: operations, staff, or leadership. Education, certifications, rank, and years of service affect a military nurse's salary. A military nurse with a master's or doctorate degree has the potential to earn more than the median salary.

With a master's degree, nurses can earn their advanced practice registered nurses license and decide to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner. According to the BLS, nurse practitioners earn a median annual salary of $120,680, as of May 2021.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Military Nurse

What qualifications do you need to become a military nurse?

Military nurses need a minimum of a bachelor's of science in nursing and RN license. While an associate degree is often sufficient to become an RN, military nurses are considered commissioned officers and need a BSN or an advanced nursing degree.

After earning a BSN, nurses need to pass the NCLEX-RN and obtain RN licensure from their state licensing body. With a BSN and RN license, nurses can enter the military.

However, many nurses choose to work in a civilian job for one year or more to gain nursing experience before enlisting. The minimum qualifications remain the same, but the additional experience may make the transition to military nursing easier.

What is the fastest way to become a military nurse?

The fastest way to become a military nurse is to earn a BSN and enlist directly as a graduate nurse. Earning a 120-credit bachelor's of science in nursing usually takes four years of full-time study. Students can complete the degree faster with accelerated programs or summer semesters.

Some of the best online bachelor's in nursing degrees can be completed in as little as 12-18 months for RNs or associate degree holders. For a working RN who doesn't have a BSN, these accelerated programs are the fastest way to earn the BSN degree necessary to become a military nurse.

Do military nurses go to war?

Military nurses can be deployed anywhere that military personnel are located. This means that military nurses may go to war during wartime.

Wartime nurses' responsibilities can include caring for life-threatening injuries such as gunshot wounds or lost limbs. Caring for injured deployed military personnel during wartime can be one of the most difficult and stressful parts of a career as a military nurse.

Military nurses can also care for wounded service members at home. Responsibilities include normal disease and injury care. They also support wounded service members in recovering from injuries sustained while serving.

What rank is an Army nurse?

An Army nurse is ranked based on experience and years of service in a system similar to other military personnel.

A newly enlisted nurse with no previous military service would start at the rank O-1, or second lieutenant. With experience and years of service, the Army nurse could rise through the ranks to O-10, the highest rank.

There is a special pay grade rank for nurses who were previously enlisted in military service. When that person reenlists as a military nurse, they will have the rank O-1E. The E signifies prior enlisted status and leads to a higher monthly salary for each pay grade.

How much money can I make as a military nurse?

How much a military nurse earns will depend on education, years of service, and rank. A military nurse who was previously enlisted will earn more than a newly enlisted military nurse.

The BLS does not specifically report military salaries, including military nurse salaries. However, Indeed.com reports the average annual salary for Army nurses is $92,060, as of July 2022.

According to the BLS, the median annual salary for registered nurses, as of May 2021, is $77,600, while nurse practitioners earn a median salary of $120,680. A career as a nurse practitioner requires a master's degree.

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