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Nursing in the Military vs Civilian Nursing

Nurses continue to be in high demand, both in military and civilian healthcare systems. Job opportunities for RNs are increasing in non-traditional settings of the civilian sector as the delivery of healthcare progresses and changes.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-2013 Edition, the employment rate for RNs is expected to increase 26 percent between 2010 and 2020. The growth is expected to be rapid in traditional hospital settings, as well as in nonhospital settings such as physicians’ offices, home healthcare services and outpatient care centers.

Advantages of Military Nursing

A military nurse considering a career transition to civilian nursing could have an advantage in the job market. He or she may have unique experience in areas including critical care, operating room, trauma nursing and disaster preparedness.  Such specialized training can be highly sought in the healthcare workforce. Military nurses have served as officers and are familiar with supervisory and leadership roles. They may also have been given a wider range of responsibility than a civilian nurse, preparing them to easily step into a civilian leadership position.

A conversion billet, which converts military rank to federal civil service rank, may be available to a military nurse who is transitioning into the U.S. government workforce. This could affect seniority, wage potential and other benefits in a government job and also be considered specialized experience in certain fields.

Advanced Education

Military and civilian nurses may have enhanced job opportunities if they attain an advanced degree (BSN or MSN) or specialized training. These nurses may be considered for jobs such as:

Many of these professional specialties requires an advanced nursing degree, specialized education and training. The military nurse who has taken advantage of benefits such as paid tuition for advanced degree and specialization programs while serving in the armed forces will be well-qualified upon entering the civilian workforce.

If an advanced nursing education was not obtained while in the military, there are many options for pursuing this path in civilian life. Both on-campus and online nursing degree programs are available for BSNs interested in an MSN degree or MSNs interested in a doctoral program. The structure and discipline learned and practiced in the military can be very beneficial to an RN returning to school.

Other Career Options

Travel nursing could be a viable option for a nurse transitioning to civilian life. The military nurse who has enjoyed assignments in various countries and has the flexibility to travel may find this type of work to be ideal. Travel nursing agencies may pay competitive salaries and offer perks such as bonuses and a housing stipend. The nurse usually has some choice in the assignment location and specialty area. As with any healthcare agency, care should be taken to research the agency and ensure it is reputable.

In transitioning to a civilian setting, military nurses have a chance to share their unique job experiences with others as a clinical nurse, nurse administrator or nurse educator. Advanced education can boost the number of career opportunities and may be attained through an on-campus or online MSN or doctoral nursing degree program.

Nurses are encouraged to conduct independent research as employment opportunities and salary potential may vary depending on location, experience, education and other factors.

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