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What are the Steps to Become a Registered Nurse in the Military?

Career News July 15, 2014

Nurses have been a vital part of military medical care for generations. They work in a variety of hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities around the world, including aboard naval vessels and medical transport aircraft. Military nurses can be found in the United States Army, Navy and Air Force. The Coast Guard and Marines receive their medical support from the Navy. As a result, they do not commission nurses. Military nurses perform many of the same functions as their civilian counterparts and, in like manner, can specialize in a number of fields if they so desire. The overall career outlook for nurses in the military is excellent, and they are in high demand. Nurses may qualify for retention bonuses. Each branch has its own requirements, but the process of becoming a nurse in each of the service branches is similar.

Complete a Bachelor Degree in Nursing

Military nurses are commissioned officers. As a result, a bachelor’s degree from an accredited nursing program is usually required. Registered nurses with only an associate’s degree are normally not eligible until they complete a four-year degree. In some cases, a nurse entering the Reserves may do so with an associate’s degree, but must complete a bachelor’s degree prior to promotion to captain. Service members in healthcare-related occupational specialties who are already on active duty or in the reserves can request a semester hour credit for their experience and military training. The various service branches have programs that enable enlisted personnel to attend nursing school and have their tuition paid in exchange for a term of service as a military nurse upon graduation.

Pass the NCLEX Exam

After graduation, contact your state licensing board for an authorization to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) for Registered Nurses. No one can practice nursing in the United States without having passed this exam. The licensing board requires proof of graduation from an accredited nursing program. The board may also require fingerprints and a background check.

Obtain a State License

After you pass the NCLEX and provide all required fees and documentation, the state board will issue you a nursing license. It may be possible to enter active duty without a license, but you will be required to obtain one within one year. A valid, active and unencumbered nursing license is required before you will be allowed to perform the functions of a military nurse.

Complete Officer Training

Nursing candidates can enroll in the Reserve Officer Training Corps, or ROTC, to prepare for a career in the military. The candidate receives this training while pursuing the degree in nursing. The ROTC program may provide qualified applicants with scholarships to attend school. Nurses who do not join ROTC can request a direct commission in the branch of their choice. You will then attend an abbreviated Officer Candidate School program designed to acquaint you with military rules, customs and regulations. In addition to age restrictions, you must be a U.S. citizen and meet the height, weight and physical fitness standards of the particular branch of service from which you will receive a commission. You must also pass a complete medical examination.

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