Become an Air Force Nurse: Education and Career Roadmap

Jul 17, 2018

Learn how to become an Air Force nurse. Research the job description and the education and licensing requirements, and find out how to start a career in Air Force nursing. View article »

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Become an Air Force Nurse

Just like civilian nurses, Air Force nurses provide care to ill and injured patients. The difference is that Air Force nurses care specifically for military service members and their families. Work opportunities are available both domestically and internationally. These nurses may also choose to take part in humanitarian missions, such as responding to natural disasters or traveling to underserved countries.

Similar to civilian nurses, Air Force nurses must be comfortable standing and bending for long periods of time, and should be able to work well with the sick and injured. They often work long and irregular hours, and Air Force nurses in particular may have to be open to travel. Some of these nurses are able to work part-time. They generally must pursue advanced education and training in order to move up to nurse specialist or nurse practitioner positions.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree is required; master's degree may be required for advancement
Degree Field Nursing
Licensure and Certification Licensure is required
Experience Entry-level
Key Skills Active listening, speaking, critical thinking, service orientation, science, and decision making skills; knowledge of database use interface and query software, medical software, Microsoft office software, Microsoft office Excel, and time accounting software; completion of air force training programs; physical requirements; must be a U.S. citizen
Salary (2016) $76,523 - $128,689 (annual salary for nurse practitioners in the Air Force)

Sources: U.S. Air Force, O*Net Online, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Steps to Be an Air Force Nurse

Let's take a look at the steps necessary to become an Air Force nurse.

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree in Nursing

Air Force nurses are required to have bachelor's degrees in nursing from accredited schools that meet the standards of the Air Force Surgeon General. A bachelor's degree program usually takes about four years to complete and includes both classroom instruction and supervised clinical work. Students take science courses such as microbiology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, and nutrition. Clinical training takes place in a number of hospital departments, such as surgery, pediatrics, and psychiatry.

Step 2: Become Licensed

Graduates of approved nursing programs must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) in order to become licensed. Exact eligibility requirements vary by state, so individuals will need to check with the state nursing board. Those who fail the exam may retake it after a period of 45 or 90 days, depending on their board of nursing.

Success Tip:

  • Get civilian nursing experience. A nurse's rank within the military is based on previous nursing experience and military service. For this reason, nursing personnel with civilian nursing experience can expect to rise in the ranks faster than nurses without this experience.

Step 3: Join the Air Force

After earning their bachelor's degrees and licenses, nurses may join the Air Force provided they are also U.S. citizens and meet physical requirements. Nurses who join the Air Force are required to complete a four-week training course in Montgomery, Alabama. Both physical conditioning and classroom learning are part of this training program. Some of the topics covered include leadership skills, military law, officer relationships, disaster preparedness, and Air Force customs. The Air Force also offers a 10-week Nurse Transition Program (NTP) that gives track options in medical-surgical nursing and obstetrics. The NTP includes both didactic and clinical training.

Step 4: Get Assigned to an Air Force Base

Air Force nurses complete an Assignment Preference Worksheet, which helps determine where they'll be stationed. Nurses can select up to eight bases or geographical regions that they prefer. While efforts are made to match nurses with their choices, there are no guarantees and it is not always possible.

Step 5: Maintain Nursing Licensure

Depending on the state in which licensure is held, continuing education may be required for licensure renewal. For example, California requires registered nurses to complete 30 continuing education hours every two years to renew their licenses. The Air Force offers a Continuing Medical Education (CME) program to help nurses meet their continuing education requirements.

Step 6: Pursue Career Advancement

Air force nurses should consider earning a graduate degree to help with advancement opportunities. The Air Force provides many opportunities for continuing education for nursing personnel. It's possible for nurses to earn master's degrees in nursing through programs run by or affiliated with the Air Force. This will enable nurses to become advanced practice nurses and pursue a specialty position, such as family nurse practitioner, certified registered nurse anesthetist, mental health nurse specialist, or nurse midwife.

Air Force nurses must have a bachelor's degree, obtain and maintain licensure, and join the Air Force and maintain a nursing license.

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