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Military Nurse Salary

March 24, 2021 | Staff Writers

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Nurses who want to use their nursing degree differently have the option to look at a career in the military. A military nurse is a profession that uses their training in an area that many health care professionals do not consider. Military nurses are those who are licensed registered nurses and offer medical care and support to patients in military hospitals or clinics anywhere in the world that have military personnel stationed. The Nurse Corps can include travel with troops as health care support. Military nurses are kept busy in both medical and administrative duties. They work in both peace times and battle situations, adjusting their health care support based on their current work situation and deployment. 

Average Salary of a Nurse in the Military 

Military nurses care for both civilians and military personnel depending on where they are located for work. They perform the duties of a registered nurse or a practical nurse depending on their military designation. They assess and take care of wounds, infections and get patients prepped for surgery as well as doing triage as needed. Nurses can be in any branch of the United States military including the Army, Navy, Air Force and other sub-divisions. Depending on their location military nurses can be caring for military retirees as well as those who are on active duty. Care can also include military family members too. 

Wartime duties can vary but nurses hold critical roles in caring for the military personal both in normal circumstances and active war areas. Emergency and critical wound care along with tirage capabilities are a must as is emotional, mental and physical strength as active duty in a war zone is stressful and can be traumatic. Being a military nurse is not for the faint of heart especially in times of conflict. 

Military nurses are thoroughly trained to work in preoperative settings as well as being able to administer anesthesia as needed and offer critical care. Being a nurse anesthetist along with other training means they are often able to prescribe medicine as well as care for civilian populations who need help in the event of a natural disaster. Military nurses are not just on the ground for wartime but also for humanitarian relief efforts both for natural disasters and aftercare of the populations that have been affected. These nurses can also be used to provide care and vaccinations for children in areas that are lacking in health care support and basic medical necessities. 

When joining the military, nurses are committed to that placement for a minimum of 3 years. Every 3 years they can be transferred to a new region or they can choose to go back to being a  civilian nurse in the secular workforce. However, military nurses who plan to stay as their lifelong profession may find that they want to be stationed in government or military facilities and not always in warzones. This is an option as seniority increases. Military hospital, VA hospital and clinics are primary workplaces for those military nurses who have moved up in rank and have seniority. 

As with most types of nursing, there are skills that can affect a military nurse’s salary. Military nurses must meet the requirements outlined by the military branch they are with as they can differ from branch to branch. Military nurses must be in top physical shape as well. While nursing degrees are a must, military nurses must also go through boot camp and be able to deal with stress and high-pressure environments. Military nurses must be able to make snap decisions in regard to medical care for those who require it. They need to be efficient and quick and be ready to go without sleep. High levels of endurance are needed too. This all applies whether they are active duty or army reserve. 

So, what does all this mean when it comes to military nurse salary? It depends on specialty, location and years of experience. Military nursing is a specialty profession and can make on average about $64,000 per year. This salary can go as high as $87,000 in areas where the demand and cost of living push it up. The average for an entry-level nurse starting salary is around $54,000. 

These salary averages are comparable to civilian nurses when looking at service and experience. While the jobs entail many of the same clinical demands, there are differences as well. Civilian nurses have more ability to control their work schedules and surroundings but in contrast, military nurses can enjoy travel and new places to work. The military also offers good benefits along with a great pay scale. Branches of the military often will cover the cost of further medical education, aid in student loan repayments, as well as taking care of housing and insurance. Military nurses will enjoy healthcare plans that are either low in cost or free for both themselves and their military family. The military offers excellent retirement plans along with extra stipends and bonuses. There is also an upgraded pay package for those military nurses who are working in a combat zone. Military nurses are compensated well for their work both at home and overseas. 

What to Expect as a Military Nurse

The United States Nurse Corps is where military nurses are based out of. Every branch of the military has its own Nurse Corps. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast guard all have their own nurses who offer care for both military personnel and their immediate families. They may also be called on to offer care to diplomats in their area and civilians who have been caught in natural disasters and need assistance. When nurses enter the military Nurse Corps with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing they come in as a commissioned officer. They can go up in military rank as both their skill and experience rise as well. 

Most of a military nurse’s time is spent similar to their civilian counterparts, they are involved directly with patient care and health support. They use their skills to assess patients, keep and enter accurate medical information in patient records, give medication as required and work together with other health care providers on a team to make sure the patient is getting the best care possible. Military nurses can specialize as well which allows them to take on more responsibilities and move their career in an upward trajectory. Taking on a specialty designation can mean preferred transfers to locations where they are needed along with rank and pay increases as well. 

Military nurses should expect their work environment to be varied. They are called to go where needed and where military personnel are stationed. This includes active war zones. These situations can be not only high risk but also high-stress. Nurses must be prepared for both peaceful deployments as well as wartime deployment. Both should be expected when the decision is made to become part of the military health care system. 

However, being a military nurse does not immediately place nurses on the front lines and having to treat soldiers who have been injured during active duty. They may also care for patients on military bases that are both in the United States as well as overseas. They may work in clinics, military hospitals and centers where there is a global response to disasters. Military nurses are not going to be able to have a say in where they are stationed but the chance to travel and live in different places around the world can be challenging and exciting at the same time. 

Once a military nurse is assigned, the duties they take on will vary depending on where that work assignment has them placed. Military nurses who are assigned to hospitals, disaster recovery areas or in active war zones will have to expect that they are going to have a significantly higher chance of having to deal with emergency response to injuries, triage and trauma than those assigned to other places with less chance of conflict and their civilian counterparts. Triage and emergency care for patient stabilization are central to a military nurse’s job when in the middle of a war zone. Gunshot wounds, loss of blood, extreme body injuries all need to be assessed and cared for in these settings all while dealing with the tough issues that come with being in an active war zone. 

Aside from these emergency and triage tasks, there are daily duties that should be expected by military nurses. Maintenance of medical records and team support are all part of the job. They will need to have skills such as: 

  • An inherent ability to remain calm in high-stress situations
  • Good decision-making abilities
  • Excellent communication skills both written and oral
  • Critical and independent thinking 
  • Good problem solving 
  • Strong leadership skills 
  • Integrity 
  • Good interpersonal skills 
  • An ability to listen to and respect those in authority

Military nurses will have varying terms of service. A minimum of 3 years is expected and 4 years for those with scholarships. Nurses who are under the ROTC program and are given 2-4 years of tuition and stipend will have to agree to serve on active duty for a minimum of 4 years. Once those years of service are over, a military nurse can choose to leave the military or remain and carry on in the capacity they are assigned. Nurses will still have 4 more years they are committed to after the first four, but remaining time commitments can be done through the Reserves or National Guard. The other option is to carry on with their military careers and advance their professional achievements through seniority and years of service.

Differences in Branches for Military Nurses 

When registered nurses (RN) decide to join the military they have three main options for placement. It can be the Army, Navy or Air Force. Each branch will require the applying nurses who are going to be doing military nursing to have a bachelor’s degree for entry into service.  This means a Bachelor of Science in Nursing is the preferred requirement. Along with this degree, nurses must meet all physical requirements as well as be able to obtain all security needs as well. Nurses will be made an officer upon entry to their designated branch of service and then they will have further opportunities to continue with their education for advanced degrees and specialties. 

Once a branch has been chosen, then the path for a military nurse is one that progresses in rank or will eventually include a return to the civilian world of health care. While the nursing job descriptions are similar for the three branches there are some differences within the branch themselves. The Army is the largest branch and has the largest Nurse Corps to match. They have over 11,000 registered nurses just within this one branch of service. 

The good thing about the Army branch is that because of their size, an army nurse can work in some very eclectic places. Their deployment can be anywhere around the world where troops are stationed or needed. Because of its size, the Army offers nurses on active duty more opportunities for both specialization and advancement over the other branches. Opportunities to travel and learn are optimal due to the Army’s size. However, because of the size of the Nurse Corp for Army that size will also increase the chances of a nurse being sent to some of the less desirable areas around the world. Each stop is a learning experience, but some are more enjoyable than others. 

In contrast to the Army, the Navy and Air Force are smaller in size and that includes their Nurses Corps. The Navy has fewer than 3000 nurses and a more limited placement for their troops. They have some great locations that nurses can be stationed in but there is limited ability for advancement since the overall numbers of both enlisted personnel and officers are smaller than the Army. There is less room to move up in the ranks since open spaces are limited to retirements and shifts in placements. The other problem can be getting sea duty as there is a limited number of spaces for that as well. An ICU Navy nurse will usually get priority for sea placement so if a nurse has not chosen a specialty or would like to continue with one, ICU would be helpful if they want to be on the sea. 

The Air Force is somewhat bigger than the Navy and will have approximately 5000 nurses within their corps. An Air Force nurse will find themselves in both some great and not-so-great locations. They are on the ground for the most part but deployed with the Air Force specialists. Air Force nurses may have the opportunity to train as a flight nurse but as with the Navy, there are limited placements for active-duty flight nurses.  Even if the position becomes available and granted, the time a nurse can hold it is no more than a few years. The other option in the Air Force if in-flight nursing is the goal is to join the Air Guard or perhaps the Reserves for a better chance to get that desired position. Having a specialty, experience and seniority can play into getting this professional role as well. 

Nurses in any branch will often be supported by corpsmen when they are nursing in the military. These are non-licensed medical personnel who will be in the middle of exercises and deployments with the troops of each branch. They will fight with combat troops and be the ones to support those who are injured in the line of duty. They are trained in similar areas as nurses but are seen as traumatic care and support staff who will be able to get the injured person to the nurse and doctors for more intensive care. Military nurses and corpsmen are teamed together to provide important and critical care during active duty times. They both have medical training but differing roles that need to work in tandem for complete patient care. 

Steps to Becoming a Military Nurse

All registered nurses whether they are civilian, or military have similar goals. They are trained to treat patients as well as support them in maintaining their physical and mental well-being. However, a military nurse is also focused on serving their country in both peace and war times. This service while honorable will also help with professional success should the nurse decide to go back to civilian nursing after their time in the military. A military nurse has the experience that most civilian nurses will not. It is a set of skills that can enhance a career path in the civilian world of health care. 

There are steps that have to be taken beyond the regular nursing school of a civilian registered nurse if someone wants to become a military nurse. Here are the significant ones that potential military nurses should be aware of as they plan their career in the military: 

  1. Education – While there are various ways for a nursing student to get a nursing degree, military nurses must have their Bachelor of Science in Nursing or another advanced nursing degree. Any nursing degree that a nurse has obtained must come from an accredited school. Military nurses will enter military service as an officer so any associate degree will not be accepted. This is a standard military practice for those professions who will enter as officers. 

    With this BSN, there is also a requirement for certification in Basic Life Support (BLS) and if specializing in cardiac or pediatric care then certification in Acute Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) and Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) will be required as well. Military nurses not only look after military personnel but their families as well, so these specialties are in need around the world.
  2. Certification – Joining the military requires a nurse to not only complete their nursing program but also take and pass the NCLEX. Nurses entering the military means that the candidate has passed the National Licensure Examination. While often priority is given to licensing in the nurse’s home state, in this case, national licensing is a must as the nurse can be stationed anywhere in the United States or around the world. 
  3. Experience – This step is one that can be done in two different ways. Once a nurse has their nursing degree and proper certification, experience is important. This can be gained either as a civilian or through enlistment. Enlisting as a newly graduated nurse can offer a great experience that is specific to military life and careers but sometimes the enlistment can take a fair amount of time so finding a civilian job until that happens can get the nurse a jump starts on their real-world experience. 
  4. Head to a recruiter – Whether a nurse’s decision is to get experience in the civilian population or through the military, there is a point when enlistment will happen, and a recruiter should be spoken to for clarity around enlistment requirements and choices. Discussion about the branch of enlistment and verification of eligibility requirements can all be checked and outlined by a recruiter and make the process go more smoothly. 
  5. Application – Once a recruiter has verified a nurse’s eligibility requirements, they are then given an application for entrance. The recruiter will be able to help with the filling in of the application packet verifying proper submission. This is not a quick process. Application and decision usually take approximately a year from the start of the application to the final approval that is done by the Commissioning Board. 
  6. BOLC – Because nurses will go into the military as an officer, there is a 5-10 week training course for commissioned officers that have to be taken as well. Training will include instruction on honing leadership skills as well as being part of military life. There will be physical training included too. Once this final training step is completed successfully, then status as a military nurse will be official and deployment orders issued for the nurse’s first position in the military. 

While these steps are what is needed to be a military nurse there are further steps to advance a career once a nurse is part of one of the military branches. Pay and rank increase depends on various factors. Pay will change when rank increases. Stipends that are allotted will also increase as rank goes up. The deployment of nurses will increase pay as well. Hazard pay is part of the job when nurses are put in places that harbor risk. Commissioned officers who are nurses can hold the following ranks: 

  • Second Lieutenant
  • First Lieutenant
  • Captain
  • Major
  • Lieutenant Colonel

These tracks to advancement will happen in three ways and can often cross over with each other. The three ways are Clinical/Operational, Staff and Executive/Leadership. 

Clinical or Operational Track 

This process for a military nurse is one where there is a need for a good clinical foundation that will progress from being a field grade officer to one that is working in advanced practice nursing, clinical specialist, element leader as well as flight commander positions. This track will include operational learning and that means a military nurse will gain executive skills as well as clinical allowing them to branch off into the executive/leadership track if that is something they wish to eventually do. 

Staff Track

When a nurse decides to follow the staff track, this means they will branch out into jobs and particular specialties that are more designed to be part of the everyday workings of their posting. Jobs focused on readiness, quality, health engagement, case management, illness prevention, research and training or education are all part of this field. Squadron or group level staff jobs have to be done as they are part of the integral workings of the everyday business. Work on the staff track can often overlap with the operational track. If a military nurse would like to follow this path, then developing a specialty is a must as it is always competitive when attempting to move into command and lead agent positions. 

Executive/Leadership Track

This track is one that will come from the operational and staff tracks. It is the track that will allow a military nurse to be able to attempt to attain a promotion to colonel. A nurse’s operational background must be strong, and they must have experience in more than one staff job, so they are well rounded in both their education and knowledge of military workings. Military nursing officers have to not only have stellar executive skills and good command potential but they also must have the proper level of Professional Military Education (PME). Being on the executive or leadership track means having to go above and beyond regular performance levels for regular duties. 

A military nurse should be mindful that these tracks are not cast in stone and moving between them is not only possible but probable for many military nurses. This will happen often early on in a new military career. Once a nurse is more established and has garnered more experience, movement between tracks will become more restrictive as experience plays into the track that is maintained. 

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