How the Army Nurse Corps Works

By: Caitlin Uttley

If you want to provide quality health care while giving back to your country, the Army Nurse Corps may be for you.
If you want to provide quality health care while giving back to your country, the Army Nurse Corps may be for you.

In February 1943, the battles of World War II raged throughout Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific. At the time, an American evacuation hospital near Bone (now Annaba), Algeria, was treating 150 patients when it received word that the German army had broken through the Kasserine Pass in nearby Tunisia and was heading northwest in the direction of the hospital. Upon hearing this news, the staff of the hospital packed up its patients and equipment and relocated to a new site 60 miles (97 kilometers) away. Within 12 hours of arriving at their new location, the hospital was up and running again, soon receiving an additional 500 patients [source: U.S. Army Center of Military History].

This story is just one of the many examples of the dedication and skill shown by the members of the United States Army Nurse Corps. Exemplifying their motto -- "Ready, Caring, Proud" -- Army nurses are part of a team of committed people working to care for the health and safety needs of the U.S. armed forces.


Whether they're on the front lines treating the battle wounds of fighting soldiers or stateside caring for veterans, soldiers and their families, or whether they're providing relief efforts after a natural disaster or participating in humanitarian work across the globe, Army nurses are a trusted and respected part of the U.S. military. In both war and peacetime, Army nurses continue to play a vital role in the support of the American military and civilian population. In 2011, the Army Nurse Corps celebrated its 110th anniversary.

So where did it all begin? And what is it like to be a nurse in the Army today? In this article, we'll take a look at the history of the Army Nurse Corps -- from its origin as a 100-woman support team to the well-trained and well-equipped medical officers of today -- and see what it takes to be an Army nurse in the modern military.

Think you have what it takes to be one of the military's medical elite? Keep reading to find out.

Army Nurse Corps History

The Army Nurse Corps was created by Congress on Feb. 2, 1901. Before that, nurses were hired under contract to serve in Army hospitals, but it eventually became clear that dedicated Army nurses were needed to support the growing military and the newly founded Army Medical Department. The Nurse Corps remained small in the beginning -- for the first decade, there were only about 100 nurses [source: U.S. Army Medical Department: Chronology].

By the time the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, the Army Nurse Corps had only 403 nurses on active duty and 170 reserve nurses. By 1918, however, that number had grown to more than 12,000, and by the end of the war, the Corps' numbers had topped 20,000. In the years after World War I, the number of nurses was reduced significantly -- to fewer than 1,000 -- as the country demobilized. It wasn't until World War II that the number of Army nurses ballooned again.


Within six months of U.S. entry into World War II -- the U.S. officially declared war Dec. 8, 1941 -- the number of active duty nurses in the Army Nurse Corps had once again climbed to more than 12,000 [source: U.S. Army Medical Department: Chronology]. Recruiting efforts at the time were immensely successful. In fact, the response was so overwhelming that at one point the Red Cross was told to stop recruiting nurses because the Army couldn't take on any more [source: U.S. Army Center of Military History].

By the end of World War II, more than 59,000 nurses served in the Army Nurse Corps. Many worked in field hospitals and on hospital trains, ships and planes. They cared for the wounded through air raids and heavy fire, sometimes using makeshift equipment or no anesthesia, but always committed and ready to do their duty. And history is a testament to their dedication: During World War II, the deadliest war in human history, "fewer than 4 percent of the American soldiers who received medical care in the field or underwent evacuation died from wounds or disease" [source: U.S. Army Center of Military History].

Today, most Army nurses work in Army hospitals equipped with state-of-the-art technology, and the vast majority hold a bachelor's degree or higher in nursing or a related field. So what does it take to be an Army nurse in the modern military? In the next section, we'll look at how to join the Army Nurse Corps.

Joining the Army Nurse Corps

The best way to join the Army Nurse Corps is to contact your local Army healthcare recruiter. He or she can tell you more about the program, help you figure out what requirements you need to meet and walk you through the process of signing up. If you're not sure who you should contact, visit to find your local recruiting office.

Since the Nurse Corps is a branch of the military, recruits need to meet some of the basic requirements for military service, including U.S. citizenship, the ability to pass a security clearance and passing a physical exam. You won't attend the Basic Training camp that enlisted soldiers do. Since Army nurses are officers, you'll instead be required to attend a Basic Officer Leader Course to acquaint you with military life. In addition, Army nurses must have a bachelor's degree in nursing from an accredited school and must be between the ages of 21 and 42. Army nurse recruits are also expected to write a motivational statement explaining why they want to join the Army Nurse Corps as part of their application.


The Army doesn't provide nursing certification, but it will help you pay to get it. If you're headed to college for an undergraduate nursing degree and are thinking of joining the Army Nurse Corps, it's worthwhile to look into your school's Army ROTC (Reserve Officers' Training Corps) program. Army ROTC programs prepare you for a military career and equip you with the tools and training you'll need to serve as an officer in the military. In addition to mentoring and training, ROTC programs provide financial assistance for college tuition and have scholarships available for qualifying students. When you join the ROTC, you're committing to three years of active duty in the military (four years for certain scholarships) in return for financial help.

Even if you don't join the Army Nurse Corps through an Army ROTC program, the Army offers loan repayment opportunities to help you pay back any loans you may have taken out in order to pay for nursing school.

The Army offers many flexible options for military service -- both full time and part time -- and Army nurses can choose from several concentrations. In the next section, we'll take a look at some of the jobs Army nurses do.

Army Nurse Corps Jobs

Today, more than 40,000 men and women serve in the Army Nurse Corps as nurses, medics, nursing assistants and in many other roles [source: Wiegel]. As an Army nurse you can serve as an Army Reserve nurse, an Army National Guard nurse or an active duty nurse.

Army Reserve nurses serve on a part-time basis as needed by the military. The rest of the time, you're free to pursue a civilian (non-military) career. Reserve nurses can earn up to $10,000 per year (critical care nurses can earn $12,500) for up to three years. Reserve nurses can also benefit from loan repayment and training programs [source: Go Army, Nurse Corps Benefits].


In the Army National Guard, you train one weekend each month and a full two-week period once each year (usually for an enlistment period of eight years). In the National Guard, you're paid for the time you spend training as well as for active duty. As a nurse through the National Guard, you can expect to make around $9,000 a year just starting out, but like any branch of the military, you can make more money as your rank and length of service increase. National Guard nurses can also benefit from tuition repayment.

Active duty nurses serve in full-time, year-round military service. Since Army nurses are officers, their pay grades are based on the officers' pay scale, which starts at around $30,000 per year and increases based on service and rank [source: Defense Finance and Accounting Service]. Plus, when you enlist for active duty, you'll receive a one-time signing bonus of between $20,000 and $30,000. There are also other financial benefits and incentives for active duty nurses, including loan repayment programs, low- or no-cost medical insurance, housing allowances, paid vacations and opportunities for continuing education.

There are many job opportunities available for Army Nurse Corps members through the U.S. Army Medical Department. Currently, 10 areas of concentration are available to Army nurses [source: Go Army, Nurse Corps Careers].

  • Army 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
  • Psychiatric nurse practitioner

Check out the next page for information about the Army Nurse Corps, its history, training and current job and educational opportunities.

Lots More Information

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More Great Links

  • Defense Finance and Accounting Service. "2011 Military Pay Table." (March 27, 2011)
  • Go Army. "Careers & Jobs: Nurse Corps Officer." (March 27, 2011)
  • Go Army. "Nurse Corps: Corps Benefits." (March 24, 2011)
  • Go Army. "Nurse Corps: Corps Careers & Jobs." (March 24, 2011)
  • Go Army. "Nurse Corps: Learn How to Join." (March 22, 2011)
  • Go Army. "ROTC for Nursing Students." (March 27, 2011)
  • National Guard. "Guard Life: Frequently Asked Questions." (March 27, 2011)
  • Ohio State University Army ROTC. "Army Nurse Corps Frequently Asked Questions." Nov. 9, 2009. (March 24, 2011)
  • U.S. Army. "Women in the U.S. Army: The Army Nurse Corps." (March 23, 2011)
  • U.S. Army Center of Military History. "The Army Nurse Corps: A Commemoration of World War II Service." (March 22, 2011)
  • U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History. "Army Nurse Corps: More Than 100 Years of Service to Our Nation! Ready, Caring, Proud." July 2, 2009. (March 24, 2011)
  • U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of Military History."Chronology: Highlights in the History of the Army Nurse Corps." July 6, 2009. (March 27, 2011)
  • U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History. "Proud to Serve: The Evolution of Male Army Nurse Corps Officers." July 7, 2009. (March 27, 2011)
  • Wiegel, Kathryn G. "Fort Lee clinic celebrates Army Nurse Corps Anniversary." Feb. 3, 2011. (March 22, 2011).