Steps to Become Military Nurses

Military nurses work at home and abroad to provide top-level care for members of the armed forces. Military nurses’ responsibilities vary depending on their focus and military branch. These healthcare professionals may offer assistance in various settings to fulfill critical needs in environments like far-away warzones and local military healthcare providers.

If you’re looking to work as a nurse in the military, there are many options to consider. Knowing the qualifications and your preferred focus can help set you on the right path.

What Is a Military Nurse?

Military nurses are BSNs who work within branches of the military to provide care for veterans, service members, and their families. These healthcare professionals can pursue employment in various nursing roles with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, National Guard, or Coast Guard. They must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to join the military as a nurse.

Military nurses’ work varies based on their specialization and setting. Potential military nursing careers include public health, midwifery, critical care, emergency, psychiatric and behavioral, obstetrics and gynecology, and more.

Military Nurse Qualifications

1. Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

Outside of the military, prospective nurses can qualify for licensure with only an associate degree in nursing. Military nurses are commissioned officers, a military rank that requires them to earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school.

A BSN degree typically takes four years of full-time enrollment to earn, though registered nurses (RNs) can pursue RN-to-BSN pathways for more accelerated degree timelines.

2. Obtain Registered Nursing (RN) Licensure

Specific nursing requirements vary among states, but all aspiring RNs must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to earn licensure.

The NCLEX uses several question formats, including multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank, across four categories: safe and effective care management, health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity, and physiological integrity.

3. Consider Gaining Civilian Nursing Experience

After earning a BSN and RN licensure, a prospective military nurse can apply to join the military. However, it may benefit candidates to develop real-world nursing experience before joining. By doing so, nurses can develop a sense of their preferred work environment and specialization area within healthcare.

4. Join the Military and Complete a Basic Officer Leader Course

As commissioned officers, each military nurse must complete the Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC). The BOLC prepares enlisted individuals for a smooth transition into the military through classwork, physical training, and field exercises. This course typically lasts three months or less and fosters strong leadership skills in its graduates.

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5. Consider a Graduate Degree

Some military nursing roles require advanced degrees, such as a master’s in nursing (MSN) or a doctorate in nursing. Interested candidates can consider these programs before pivoting into roles with the military.

Depending on their deployment and active-duty schedules, bachelor ’s-level military nurses may be able to pursue these programs as well.

Outside of the military, healthcare professionals with advanced nursing degrees include nurse practitioners and advanced practice registered nurses. The military often seeks these professionals to fill specialized roles.

Other Qualifications for Military Nurses

Along with meeting education and military requirements, job listings may include other stipulations that vary depending on the military branch.

For example, military nurses looking to work within the Air Force should be between 18 and 48 years old, though waivers are also available for older professionals.

Within the Army Nurse Corps, candidates must be aged 21 to 42 for active-duty eligibility. Waivers are similarly available for professionals older than 42. The Navy requires nurses to be between the ages of 18 and 41.

Prospective military nurses must also be U.S. citizens to qualify. Military nurses may also need to be eligible for security clearances depending on their branch and role.

Military Nurses Salary

Glassdoor data reveals that RNs in the U.S. Air Force earn around $100,000 annually on average. Army RNs earn around $104,000, Glassdoor reports, and Navy RNs take home around $107,000 annually.

Specialized roles can earn bonuses as well. For example, an active-duty critical care nurse in the Army Reserve or National Guard can receive a signing bonus of up to $100,000. Nurse anesthetists may qualify for signing bonuses of up to $250,000.

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