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.