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How to Become a Military Nurse

The benefits of a nursing career are no secret. Registered nurses (RNs) enjoy higher-than-average salaries, solid job security and plenty of prospects for career advancement. RNs who choose military nursing also have the opportunity to take leadership roles serving their country as commissioned officers.

A bachelor’s degree is a basic requirement to become an officer in the U.S. military. The first step for RNs interested in a military nursing career is to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Luckily, there is no need to return to school for four more years.

“Bridge” programs such as the online RN to BSN at Eastern Illinois University (EIU) build on prior nursing education. Working RNs can graduate from EIU in just 14 months with the degree they need for a respected career with the U.S. armed forces.

Why Consider Military Nursing?

People join the military for various reasons. For RNs considering a military career, incentive might come from:

  • Pride that comes with serving your country
  • Education benefits, including loan repayment programs
  • Low- or no-cost healthcare
  • Housing allowance
  • 30 days of paid vacation
  • Government-funded retirement benefits
  • Built-in opportunities to advance in leadership roles with increases in salary and rank

Earning potential is another benefit of a military nursing career. RNs earn a median annual salary of $71,730, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Today’s Military puts the average salary for military nurses at $108,838. Sign-on bonuses offer added incentive. With the Army, RNs may see a sign-on bonus of up to $30,000.

How Can RNs Become Military Nurses?

RNs today are strongly encouraged to earn their BSN. Some employers may even require it. Still, many nurses continue to practice without a BSN. For RNs who want a military nursing career, putting a BSN on hold is not an option.

In addition to earning their BSN, RNs will need to meet a few other requirements to be considered for military nursing. As one example, Army Nurse Corps requirements for applicants include:

  • S. citizen or permanent resident
  • 21 to 42 years of age (age waiver may be available)
  • Minimum of a BSN from an accredited school
  • Current, valid, unrestricted license to practice as an RN
  • Completion of the 11-week Army Medical Department (AMEDD) Officer Basic Leaders Course (OBLC)
  • Willingness to serve for a minimum of three years

Planning ahead can help RNs achieve their goals. Aspiring flight nurses, for example, need at least one year of clinical experience in acute care nursing.

What Do Military Nurses Do?

As every RN knows, there is no such thing as a typical day in nursing. Whatever the day holds, RNs need to be prepared to make lifesaving decisions. Military nurses may face the added pressure of high-stress situations involving combat casualties.

Military RNs care for active-duty military personnel, military family members, military retirees and even civilians in the case of humanitarian aid. They practice in many of the same specialties as civilian nurses, such as:

  • Critical care
  • Psychiatry/mental health
  • Perioperative
  • Emergency
  • Ob-gyn
  • Public health

Like civilian RNs, many military nurses earn graduate degrees and work in advanced practice roles such as family nurse practitioner and nurse anesthetist. The difference? Military benefits for earning a master’s or doctorate may include tuition, pay and allowances.

Where Do Military Nurses Work?

Military nurses work across the U.S. and overseas, often in military hospitals and clinics. Other settings include:

  • Military bases
  • Mobile medical units (in combat or disaster areas)
  • Global response centers
  • Field hospitals
  • On aircraft
  • Aboard hospital ships and “surface” ships (naval warships)

RNs who thrive on emergency nursing might consider the specialized field of aeromedical evacuation (AE). In addition to transporting wounded military personnel who need lifesaving care, AE flight nurses assist with humanitarian and disaster relief.

Whatever the work environment, a military RN’s primary focus is the same as in civilian nursing — providing optimal patient care.

How Can EIU’s Military Student Assistance Center Help?

EIU’s Military Student Assistance Center helps veterans, military personnel and military family members make the most of education benefits.

Enlisted service members, for example, can earn their bachelor’s while they are serving to transition to officer positions, as Today’s Military explains. Unlike RNs on active duty, RNs with an ADN can join the Reserves. EIU’s Military Student Assistance Center can help Reserve nurses navigate benefit programs and services to earn their BSN and advance their military career.

Military veterans with medic experience may find an ideal civilian career in nursing. EIU’s Military Student Assistance Center can help veterans who may want to re-enlist plan for success by earning a BSN.

RNs are in demand, with a much faster rate of job growth than most occupations. When RNs factor in the strong outlook for nurses in the military, the sky is the limit. Whether through emergency care in-flight, on a ship, in a combat zone, or at home in a clinic or hospital, military nursing offers a wealth of opportunity.

RNs who are ready for a change, want help repaying student loans, or simply want to serve their country may find what they are looking for in a military nursing career. Military RNs may serve for a few years, which others stay for a lifetime. Either way, military nursing can prepare RNs for success wherever their careers take them.

Learn more about Eastern Illinois University’s online RN to BSN program.


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook – Registered Nurses

Today’s Military: Registered Nurses

U.S. Army: Army Medicine

U.S. Air Force: Flight Nurse

U.S. Army: Army Nurse Corps

Defense Logistics Agency: 167th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron Mobilizes for Hurricane Dorian Support

Today’s Military: Field Nurses

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