The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has projected that the U.S. health care system will have approximately 194,500 openings for registered nurses each year until 2030. While finding qualified individuals for those positions will present a challenge, military veterans are one resource that can step up to the plate. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, about 200,000 members of the military transition to civilian life each year.
Just like their non-military counterparts, veterans embarking on a career in civilian nursing typically start by earning an associate degree in nursing or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Those who wish to take on advanced roles or move into leadership positions proceed to graduate programs such as an online Master of Science in Nursing focusing on leadership and education or an online Master of Science in Nursing program with a nurse practitioner focus.
While the educational path that veterans follow to a nursing career is standard, the experience and military skills developed by those individuals through their service to our country is not. The ability to work under pressure, for example, aligns well with the background needed to excel in a nursing career. Veterans interested in pursuing nursing careers can benefit from exploring what it takes to transition to civilian nursing.
What Skills Do Individuals Learn in the Military?
A 2020 report published in Insider ranked health care as the No. 1 career path for veterans who are leaving the military. Reviewing the skills that veterans acquire through military service makes it easy to see how they make great candidates for nursing careers.
In 2020, G.I. Jobs highlighted veterans’ skills in the areas of:
- Attention to detail
Having these skills equips veterans with the ability to handle some of the biggest challenges in nursing. For example resilience, persistence, and patience are valuable in working with patients who may not be receptive to their treatment plans, and attention to detail is critical in administering treatment and medication.
In addition, Military.com has noted that veterans build the ability to:
- Accomplish tasks
- Stay organized while working under pressure
- Develop strong teamwork and communication skills
Particularly if they have served in combat, veterans have experience getting the job done in stressful environments while remaining organized and calm. Having these skills could serve veterans well in high-pressure civilian nursing careers. Nurses sometimes need to make critical decisions quickly, and veterans’ military skills enable them to make wise choices under pressure.
To do their jobs at the highest level, nurses must also interact with many other health care professionals and numerous patients from all walks of life. Having strong teamwork and communication skills equips veterans well for the interactions they could face in a civilian nursing career.
Transferring Military Skills into a Nursing Career
Even before receiving civilian nursing training, many veterans have military skills they can apply to a civilian nursing career.
Depending on their military experience, many veterans may already have skills in health care. For example, veterans who have worked as medics or military nurses already have valuable clinical expertise, combat casualty care management skills, or disaster relief training. That type of expertise can be invaluable in civilian nursing and can serve as a solid foundation on which to build a new career.
Regardless of whether their military experience includes responsibilities directly related to health care, veterans have other qualities that can transfer directly to a nursing career. Serving in the military sparks a desire to help others, a sense of selflessness, and resourcefulness in response to the unexpected. Those same qualities can transfer directly to a successful civilian nursing career.
Nursing Career Paths of Military Veterans
Veterans can pursue an extensive range of civilian nursing career paths. Below are some examples of the nursing career paths in which veterans can apply their military skills.
Nurse Manager or Supervisor
Veterans with strong leadership skills and experience managing groups of people may consider a civilian career as a nurse manager or supervisor. Individuals in this role usually oversee a team of other health care professionals, coordinating and planning the work the team will do. They may also have responsibilities such as training staff or ensuring that other health care professionals follow safety procedures. According to PayScale, the median annual salary for a clinical nurse manager is $84,701 as of 2021.
Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and traumatic brain injury are the primary mental health concerns that members of the military may encounter. Veterans who want to help others with those issues may consider becoming psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners. Individuals in this role assess, diagnose, and treat their patients’ mental health issues; they may also conduct therapy or prescribe medication. According to PayScale, the median annual salary of a psychiatric nurse practitioner is $111,635 as of 2021.
Emergency Nurse Practitioner
Veterans who have combat experience or wish to help patients with trauma and injury may find that becoming an emergency nurse practitioner best suits their skills and interests. Individuals in this role treat patients with urgent illnesses, trauma, and injury; emergency nurse practitioners also stabilize or resuscitate individuals with life-threatening conditions. According to PayScale, the median annual salary of a nurse practitioner with emergency room skills is $104,272 as of 2021.
Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
For veterans who want to work with patients in intensive care settings, becoming an adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioner could be a good choice. Adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioners focus on patients with conditions that are complex and acute, perform complex monitoring of patients, and develop patient treatment plans with the goal of preventing future complications and improving patients’ health. According to PayScale, the median annual salary of an adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioner is $96,063 as of 2021.
Making the Transition from the Military to Civilian Nursing
Building on military skills by pursuing a civilian career in nursing is an excellent choice for veterans with a desire to continue helping others. In addition, it’s important to remember that the benefits of the GI Bill® help veterans to finance college or pursue training programs, giving them the opportunity to advance their education and further develop their skills.
Veterans considering careers in nursing should explore Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Nursing: Leadership & Education program and its online Master of Science in Nursing: Nurse Practitioner program. Both programs can equip veterans with the expertise to forge a rewarding career in civilian nursing. The nation’s first private military college, Norwich has promoted excellence in education since its founding in 1819.
For more information about transitioning from military to civilian life, watch the university’s webinar: Transitioning from Military to Civilian Life Through an Advanced History Degree.
GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.