Transitioning from Corpsman/Medic to Civilian Nurse

Transitioning from Corpsman/Medic to Civilian Nurse

Corpsman/medic-to-nurse programs expand on healthcare experience

By Debra Wood, RN, contributor

Army medics and Navy corpsmen often face obstacles when returning home from military service, wanting to put the lifesaving skills they learned and practiced in the service to use in civilian life. Several programs have developed, some with the help of government, to let these professionals enter the field of nursing.

“Everything that makes an amazing employee is what they bring to the table,” said Jackie Bateman, RN, MSN, CHPN, associate nursing professor at Montgomery College in Takoma Park, Md.

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Medic-to-nurse programs

The Military Medic/Corpsman-to-ADN Transition Program at Montgomery College began in 2014. The college received a grant from the Maryland Higher Education Commission to establish the program. Students can use their GI Bill or VA benefits for the 12-month program.

Leaders at the Montgomery College recognize the challenges these troops face and have developed a 12-week course to teach concepts specific to nursing, taken prior to entering the regular ADN program. Applicants must meet certain qualifications and complete prerequisite classes, and some are able to take those courses while still in the military.

“The main difficulty I hear from the students is that taking the courses while active duty can be difficult,” Bateman said. “We are not fully online.”

Many of the graduates gravitate to critical care roles, where they can work as a team with physicians and other professionals, Bateman said.

Differences between medic work and nursing

“The difference between being a civilian nurse and a military nurse is the concept of team,” said Bateman, a Navy Nurse Corps veteran. “The advantage is they are team players … They also bring a sense of professionalism. They know how to follow directions and are extremely on time.”

Another difference they face: in the military, policies and procedures exist for just about everything, Bateman said, but those lines are grayer in civilian life.

“They are more protocol-driven on the medic side, and in nursing we tend to see things more holistically,” added Maria Olenick, PhD, RN, chair of the undergraduate nursing program at Florida International University (FIU) Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing and Health Sciences in Miami. “They have been adjusting wonderfully. I think they are going to make incredible nurses.”

VBSN program encourages bachelor’s-prepared nurses

In 2013, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) began the Veterans’ Bachelor of Science in Nursing (VBSN) program with funding for up to nine cooperative agreements, of up to $350,000 a year. FIU has received two of those grants. College officials are figuring out how they can sustain the program, because the need is so great.

“The guys and gals are getting out, and their training doesn’t correlate to anything in the civilian world,” Olenick said. The funding provides for two full-time faculty, an advisor and an academic coach to help them through the transition to civilian nursing. The learning goes both ways.

“We, as faculty, have learned so much about veterans and the military cultures and transitions,” Olenick said. 

Students can receive up to 12 credits for prior military courses and during a “boot camp” can demonstrate skill competencies. The BSN program takes one year to complete. Many medics/corpsmen begin the program while still in the military. If they completed it while still active duty, they can become officers.

“We have a lot of people interested in joining the program,” said Sheryl-Ann Mullings-Black, MBA, a former VBSN advisor. Some of the graduates have gone to work at Veterans Health Administration facilities. Many have gravitated to critical care roles.

Career options include travel nursing

Once medics and corpsmen become nurses and gain some experience, they have many career options available to them, including travel nursing. As former military personnel, they are likely used to moving around the United States and to foreign countries, which can make the transition to travel nursing that much easier.  

One major difference for former medics/corpsmen: if working short-term travel RN jobs (usually 4-13 weeks) with a travel nursing agency, they can work with a recruiter to choose the locations and jobs where they want to work, instead of being told where they will be moving by their military bosses.

RELATED: Five Prerequisites for Becoming a Travel Nurse

While many medic-to-nurse programs are doing well, at least one program (MiraCosta College in Oceanside, Calif.) has ceased operations in recent years. Medics and corpsmen are encouraged to seek out transition/bridge programs near them for more information.


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