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Veterans Earning a BSN: Filling the Nursing Shortage

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The Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare recently reported that the nursing shortage in the United States would reach a quarter million by 2025.

Why? Much is due to the two edges of the same sword. A large number of nurses are of the Baby Boomer generation, with nearly 700,000 projected to retire or leave the labor force by 2024. At the same time, the Baby Boomer generation as a whole is aging and entering the healthcare system in unprecedented numbers, many with chronic conditions that weren’t recognized or treated mere decades ago. In short, demand for nurses is increasing while the supply is not keeping up.

The nearly 13,000 well-trained medics, corpsmen and nurses discharged from military service each year are prime candidates to help fill that gap and step into excellent lifelong careers. If you are a military medic, corpsman without your RN, or a licensed nurse with an associate degree or nursing diploma, now may be the best time to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). The BSN is becoming the gold standard in nursing education.

Most active duty nurses are required to have a BSN, though that’s not always been the case. A BSN is preferred, but not required, of RNs in the military reserves.

The Value of a BSN to Vets

It’s not easy to become a combat medic or corpsman, just as it is not easy to become a civilian nurse. But those who have military training and experience tend to be extremely well-suited to transferring into civilian healthcare service and earning their RN and subsequent BSN.

The Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare emphasizes that “Army and Air Force medics and Navy corpsmen possess exceptional clinical skills and are highly trained to render state-of-the-art care.”

Military RNs have an even shorter learning curve: RNs can earn a BSN in as few as 12 months at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), with all coursework completed. If you earn your BSN while still serving, you may be eligible to become an officer.

Furthermore, UAH has military and veterans programs that support veterans returning to higher education after service.

What’s the Difference?

Medical personnel in the military, especially in the field, are more protocol-driven than in public and private healthcare delivery. Nurses in modern healthcare facilities, at the top of their training and profession, tend to see things from a more holistic perspective, which means more thinking on your feet rather than following required checklists.

Another big difference for most nurses is travel. Military personnel tend to travel often and move from base to base. The only parallel in nursing outside of the military is traveling nurses, who have their own set of benefits and rewards. Veterans with the itch to travel might like that option a great deal.

But perhaps most important is that veterans know the value of teamwork in high-stress situations. Life-or-death situations are the daily diet of many professional nurses (and soldiers).

Making the Transition

It’s not always easy to leave the military life and enter the unfamiliar territory of life as a civilian nurse. The Journal of Clinical Nursing says, “The decision to separate from the military and transition into the civilian workforce carries many challenges capable of influencing nurses’ personal and professional identities.”

One thing that makes the transition easier is money. The median salary for a nurse with a BSN is 33 percent higher than the median salary for all veterans, according to the Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare. With demand for nurses rising, that gap will likely widen, and, of course, employment opportunities will only continue to expand.

Overcoming Chaos

The images and stories from the TV series M*A*S*H likely informed and even motivated many nurses nearing retirement today. The show, which ran from 1972 to 1983, about a medical unit near the front lines during the Korean War, dramatized the heroics of medicine against a backdrop of chaos.

Healthcare professionals who have worked on teams performing medical heroics in times of chaos are in exceptionally high demand right now. The aging of the population, changes in healthcare that increasingly focus on chronic conditions, and national policy debates that can roil both regulation and insurance requirements all add to the chaos of the modern civilian healthcare system.

We live in an increasingly chaotic world, and those who served our country by having to learn how to survive in a chaotic world can help the rest of us get through it, alive and in good health.

Learn more about the UAH online RN to BSN program.

Sources: Transitioning from Corpsman/Medic to Civilian Nurse

Nursing 2017: Is Military Nursing for You?

U.S. Army: Army Medicine

Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare: Transitioning from Military Medics to Registered Nurses

The Atlantic: The U.S. Is Running Out of Nurses


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