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Nursing Careers in the Military & Spouses Nursing Program

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Nursing Careers for Veterans and Military Spouses

Nurses have stepped into the limelight due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Before this publicity, nurses have long been one of the most highly respected professions – ranking number one in honesty and ethics for nearly 20 years.

The World Health Organization declared 2020 the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife and every May nurses are celebrated for the vital role they play in healthcare. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing provides a statistical overview of the growth and demand for the profession:

  • Nursing is the largest profession in healthcare and a large portion of the US workforce
  • RN salaries average $70,000 per year
  • Employment is projected to grow 15% from 2016-2026
  • 200,000 new RN positions will be created each year
  • There are more than 3 times as many RNs as physicians in the US
  • 88% of employers prefer RNs with bachelor’s degrees
  • 1% of nurses hold a master’s degree
  • 9% hold a doctorate degree

Nursing is a career with great potential for advancement. Civilians seeking a nursing career in the military have opportunities through the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Active duty service members have additional opportunities through voluntary credentialing and education programs. Military spouses have opportunities through MyCAA.

What is Nursing?

Nursing is both an art and a science. It is a science because nurses understand how the human body works, how to safely administer medications, and how to identify and react to medical emergencies. It is an art because nurses are humans taking care of other humans. Nurses provide care in many settings – hospitals, long term care facilities, schools, homes, and jails – and they do it well.

While nurses work alongside medicine and other fields, nursing is an independent function of other disciplines.

A career in nursing is equally challenging and rewarding. For military spouses, nursing is a career that provides employment opportunities nearly anywhere. For service members, nursing may align with medical-related military experience and draw on the critical thinking skills developed throughout military service.

Clinical Requirements

Nearly all nursing degrees require clinical rotations. Clinical rotations are hands-on experiences where a student practices nursing under the supervision of an instructor or seasoned nurse. Even programs that advertise 100% online require clinical rotations. For families who PCS often, completing clinicals can be challenging. This is especially true for military spouses moving OCONUS.

Levels of Nursing

The exact details of what a nurse does depend on their training and certifications, the credentials they have earned, and what state they are licensed to practice in. If you are considering a career in nursing or are a nurse facing relocation, the state board of nursing is the best place to start for specific information.

Here is a general description of the levels of nursing, example programs for acquiring these credentials, and military specific resources available for becoming a nurse.

Certified Nurses Aid – CNA

Though not considered a nursing credential, CNAs are a valuable part of healthcare teams. They often fall under the umbrella of nursing in healthcare facilities. A CNA completes approximately 75 hours of training and a certification exam. CNAs are considered unlicensed healthcare professionals and help people with activities like eating, bathing, and walking safely and check vital signs. With additional training, they can administer medications in some states. CNAs are deeply important to nursing teams. Some nursing programs require CNA licensure as an admission requirement.

    • Active duty military members can complete a National Nurse Aide Assessment Program (NNAAP) through Army COOL. This exam is widely accepted for fulfilling CNA certification requirements.
    • Military Spouses can complete a CNA program using the MyCAA Scholarship

Licensed Practical Nurse – LPN

An LPN completes approximately one year of training and is required to pass the NCLEX-PN exam to be eligible for licensure. LPNs are licensed professionals who have earned a training certificate. LPNs practice under the supervision of RNs. There are not as many options for specialization and LPNs primarily perform technical nursing skills. Like CNAs, LPNs play an important role in many healthcare teams.

    • Active duty military members have several LPN opportunities through Army COOL.
    • The MyCAA Scholarship program to complete LPN training.

Registered Nurse – RN

An RN completes either a two-year Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program or a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. An RN must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to be eligible for licensure. ADN and BSN represent nursing degrees and RN represents a nursing license. RNs perform all of the technical nursing skills that LPNs can, plus some more complex technical nursing and critical thinking skills. A BSN can earn a higher salary and has more opportunities for leadership roles.

    • Active duty service members enrolled in a BSN program may be eligible for the Health Professional Scholarship Program. This program offers full tuition, a sign-on bonus, and a monthly stipend for students pursuing nursing at the BSN level.
    • Students in their second year of a BSN program may be eligible for the Nurse Candidate Program. This program offers tuition assistance, a bonus and monthly stipend once the degree is completed. Participants are required to serve in the Navy after graduation.

Specialty Certifications in Nursing

An RN has countless opportunities for specialty certifications. RNs are not required to hold specialty certifications, but these hard-earned credentials show that a nurse has knowledge and significant experience in a nursing specialty.

  • With their unique training and experience, veterans may be a perfect fit for nursing specialties like public health, emergency, critical care, operating room, or flight nursing.
  • Army COOL provides active duty military members with opportunities to obtain nursing specialty certifications.
  • Military spouses have opportunities for additional training certificates through the MyCAA Scholarship

Graduate Degrees in Nursing

Just like specialty certifications, there are countless graduate degrees that RNs can pursue. To earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), a nurse must complete a BSN and an additional two years of graduate level education. An MSN can also earn specialty certifications. Administration and Education are two common MSN degrees. Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) also complete graduate degrees. There are four APRN roles.

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

An NP independently manages patients by promoting health, preventing disease, diagnosing, and managing care.

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

A CNS focuses on improving healthcare by directly caring for patients, supporting nurses to provide the best possible care, and ensuring that healthcare organizations run as efficiently and as effectively as possible.

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)

A CNM cares for women of all ages and for women and infants during pregnancy and childbirth.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

A CRNA cares for patients receiving anesthesia, typically in the hospital operating room setting.

Nursing Doctorate Degrees

Many people are unaware that there are doctorate degrees in nursing. The most common degrees, Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and PhD in Nursing, require at least three additional years of education. In general, a DNP focuses on providing direct patient care in clinical settings and a nurse with a PhD in Nursing focuses on nursing research activities.

  • Active duty service members enrolled in graduate programs may be eligible for the Health Professional Scholarship Program. This program offers full tuition, a sign-on bonus, and a monthly stipend for qualifying students.
  • An advanced nursing degree can be earned through Air Force nursing programs. There are several, including the Health Professional Scholarship Program.

GI Bill®-Approved Schools with Nursing Programs:

List may include partner schools of CollegeRecon.  They have paid for promotional consideration.

You can also use the CollegeRecon School Search tool to find nursing programs.  Just go here.


Finally, it may be possible for you to earn your nursing degree without incurring the hefty tuition costs with the Yellow Ribbon Program. The Yellow Ribbon Program was created to help educate and train America’s future military leaders. The program has been a huge success, helping tens of thousands of deserving students from over 400 colleges and universities earn a degree in all fiends, including nursing.





About the author

Lori Waddell serves as Co-director of an emergency response COAD in Montana, a freelance writer, and an Air Force Key Spouse. She is passionate about empowering communities and individuals through knowledge and resources. She currently lives in Montana with her husband and two children.