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Army Seeks Nurses, Expands Benefits

By Christina Orlovsky, senior staff writer

Nurses face an endless amount of job opportunities and innumerable career avenues to pursue—especially in times of a shortage. In an effort to encourage more nurses to take the military path to their profession, the Army and Army Reserve have increased their benefits and offerings for working nurses.

Facing the same workforce shortage as the civilian nursing industry, the Army is aiming to increase its appeal through a variety of financial rewards offered to registered nurses seeking sign-on bonuses, further training and student loan repayment.

“We’re experiencing the same types of shortages and concerns that our civilian counterparts are in terms of nursing in general,” explained Major Carolyn Gales, RN, BSN, MS, MBA, active duty nursing program manager for the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, in Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Gales added that certain specialties are in greater need than others and the financial rewards and opportunities reflect these needs.

“We need critical-care nurses just like the civilian workforce does, and we need nurse anesthetists just like the short-stay facilities do,” Gales said. “We target them with a lot of money.”

Among the incentives now offered by the Army is a sign-on bonus of $25,000 for those willing to commit to four years of full-time active-duty service. Sign-on bonuses of up to $15,000 are available for certain specialties in the Army Reserve, which requires monthly part-time training or more often depending on the unit of assignment. Active duty will accept personnel up to age 49, while the Army Reserve has an age limit of 52. Both may be waived for those with prior military service.

The active duty Nurse Corps is also currently offering a Health Professions Loan Repayment, which repays up to $30,651 in school loans used to obtain a nursing degree based on a three-year commitment. Nurses can take advantage of further specialized training after one year on active duty and, upon request, are guaranteed training in critical-care nursing, maternal-child nursing, operating room nursing or psychiatric/mental health nursing. Additional training in Army public health nursing and emergency room nursing require a recommendation and endorsement from a nursing director.

“Currently, the minimum active duty commitment for the Army Nurse Corps is three years,” Gales explained, “so you wouldn’t have to obligate yourself for more than the minimum to benefit from the loan repayment.”

Additionally, the Army Reserve expanded its Specialized Training Assistance Program (STRAP). Students may use STRAP to complete their BSN, obtain a master's degree in adult critical nursing or nursing anesthesia. Students receiving STRAP will earn a $1,300 monthly stipend for each month enrolled in school and will be obligated for two years with each year assistance was used. The Army Reserve also offers the Health Professions Loan Repayment Program.

While the specialized training is a key professional benefit, Gales added that the personal benefits for Army nurses are also crucial to their success in nursing once their tour of duty ends.

“Once you leave the Army—or any military branch—you have the qualities of being flexible, adaptable and willing to travel. In my opinion, that makes it possible for you to take advantage of the many opportunities in nursing that are available to you,” Gales said, adding that she has taken advantage of the many educational opportunities available to her since she joined the Army in 1984, earning her master’s degree in informatics and her MBA.

“I would also say that Army nurses have been more exposed to being leaders, knowing how to problem solve, making sure we take steps with the appropriate level of urgency—not just in terms of clinical duties but problem solving in general—and overall, we tend to bring a level of leadership to a civilian environment,” she added.

While the character benefits of Army nursing also come with their share of challenges—relocation and the potential danger of military surroundings among them—the underlying goal and role of the Army nurse is not very different from that of a civilian nurse.

“The Army Nurse Corps is part of the Army Medical Department, which obviously supports the fighting force of the U.S. Army,” Gales concluded.

“Wherever the soldiers go, the Army Medical Department goes,” she added. “Our job is to take care of wounded soldiers, and we have to be willing to go where we need to go to get them and make sure they’re cared for. Our primary duty is not to carry a weapon; our duty is to take care of those who do.”

For more information, visit the Web site of the Army Nurse Corps.

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