Becoming a Military Nurse

Becoming a Military Nurse

Ever thought about becoming a nurse in one of the armed forces? Alicia Murray did.

For six years, Murray, MSN, RN, CHPN, now an Assistant Professor at Husson University, served as an LPN in the Army. Having been recruited while in school, Murray spent eight weeks in basic training at Fort Dix in New Jersey and then had four weeks of AIT, which is individual training. She entered the military as an E-3—private first class—and was promoted to E-5 sergeant after completion of the aforementioned 12-week training. This allowed her to be a non-commissioned officer, as nurses without bachelor’s degrees or more are not eligible to be officers.

“The military offered the GI bill, student loan repayment, and a monthly income,” says Murray. But it also gave her so much more. “It provided me with leadership experience, organizational skills, structure, and the confidence to continue my education and team building.”

Murray answered other questions about how civilians can become nurse in the military.

What are the first things that people must do to become nurses for any of the branches of the military? Do they need to become RNs first? What type of degree do they need to have? Is this the same throughout the branches of the military? If not, how are the requirements different? 

All military RNs are commissioned officers , and so unfortunately, RNs with an associate degree are disqualified. Any civilian who earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing and received an RN license in their state can apply for a direct commission. RNs, doctors, lawyers, and other licensed professionals in this pipeline receive a somewhat abridged version of officer candidate training to orient them to the military culture and their role in it as officers.

There are also programs that help civilians offset the cost of nursing education in exchange for serving once they graduate. The Navy, for example, offers a full tuition ride (unless you can find a school that charges over $180,000) to high school students going into a nursing program, or up to $34,000 to current student nurses through their Nurse Candidate Program. The Air Force also has a scholarship program for health professionals and each branch may offer college loan repayment incentives.

Scholarship programs are generally only for civilians aiming for a military career as RNs, but what about those already serving in the military? As with other college degrees, those who serve can receive tuition assistance or use their GI Bill benefits to pay for off-duty courses in an accredited nursing program.

Completing a bachelor’s degree while serving as a full-time enlistee is no breeze, but depending on your level of experience in an enlisted health care specialty and the number of credits your college is willing to grant for military experience, you may be able to make your journey that much easier.

After civilians become nurses, how do they go about entering the military? Do they have to go through what any other civilian does? Or are they automatically on a different level because they are specifically joining to serve as health care providers? Please explain.

Upon passing the NCLEX and becoming a registered nurse with a BSN, a nurse should speak with a recruiter of the branch they wish to serve. They enter as an officer, complete an officer candidate training, and enter into practice. You can work with the recruiter to help secure a specific location or desired base station. As above, if you have an associate degree or diploma education as an RN, you would have to enter the military in a different capacity and take advantage of the tuition reimbursement options available. Nurses want to designate if they want to be active duty or reserves depending on the commitment.

Active duty commitment usually begins with a two- or three-year commitment. The reserve option is usually eight years with six years being active at one weekend a month and two weeks of active duty a year for the first six years. The last two of the eight years are considered inactive reserves. You do not have to attend drill weekends, but can be called back to duty at any point in those two years if needed. With 20 years of active duty status, one is eligible to retire with full military benefits. If one has 20 years of reserves, they are also eligible for pro-rated military retirement benefits.

What else is important for people to know about how to become a nurse in the military? 

Military nursing allows one to travel as well as support our troops in the field and in stateside hospitals. It is an admirable career that allows for career and promotional developments. Nursing positions can vary from bedside nursing, to leadership/managerial roles and field nursing. It allows you to reach you own potential for autonomy, leadership, and team building. It gives a different perspective to troops returning home, families, and caring for retired veterans and their families.

The career paths and specialties are endless. It is an experience that may push you to realize that you can do things you never thought you could do. It teaches respect and the importance understanding what the military culture is in the U.S. The skill set brought after finishing the enlistment will carry into the civilian world. It is rewarding, fulfilling, heartbreaking, and life changing.

I would encourage others to enter the military first and foremost to serve their country—to be there for the troops for medical support and to provide competent care. I learned confidence and a skill set that I was able to carry over into my civilian practice and promoted autonomy. I was able to obtain my associate degree RN through the assistance and went on to obtain my bachelor’s degree in nursing.