Savannah Estes is a medical surgical nurse in a health system that employs thousand of nurses, offers a competitive salary, 30 days of paid vacation, opportunities for paid continuing education and fast-track career advancement. A private healthcare behemoth like HCA or Tenet Health? Actually, no – it’s Uncle Sam. After just six months of duty as an Army nurse at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, she’s a first lieutenant with an 8-alpha designation, meaning she qualifies as a critical care nurse.
“I came into the Army as a second lieutenant, but because I already had a year of experience, I got promoted to the rank of first lieutenant after six months rather than 18,” she says in an online video. Because she worked in critical care before enlisting, she received a bonus and additional training in ICU nursing at the Army’s expense.
Uncle Sam wants you
If you have a BSN the Army wants you, and — as in Estes’s case — it’s willing to prove it with a direct commission as an officer or the chance to enroll in Officer Candidate School. After you join the ranks, you’ll have a chance to concentrate on one of dozens of specialties such as: public health nurse, certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, critical care nurse, emergency room nurse, family nurse practitioner, medical-surgical nurse, OB/GYN nurse, perioperative nurse, psychiatric/mental health nurse or psychiatric nurse practitioner.
On top of that, as an officer in the Army Medical Department, you’ll have an unusual degree of authority. If you’re working at a field hospital or the medical facility at a particular base or installation, you’ll supervise all nursing care during one shift. At a large medical center you’ll probably serve as a team leader on a large nursing unit.
Things to consider
Working as an Army nurse doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll serve in combat or be in harm’s way, unless your specialty requires it or you wish to pursue it. Most personnel have families who also receive care through the Army’s healthcare corps.
Neither do you have to spend your entire nursing career in the military, unless you choose to. Upon retirement from the service, you can re-enter the civilian nursing world, usually with excellent job prospects. Having acquired skills and training such as advanced degrees and certifications, you’ll likely be a top candidate for civilian nursing jobs, often in a supervisory or advanced capacity.
Of course, some nurses aren’t anxious to turn in their stars and leave what they see as the supportive atmosphere of the Army. As Estes says, “There is much more camaraderie between the doctors and nurses here than in the civilian world. In the short time that I’ve been in the Army, it’s really become a part of who I am and I’m proud of that.”
– Robert Kaye
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