Often, the question arises: Can civilian nurses work on military bases? The short answer is yes. Civilians are important to the Military Health System (MHS) team. Civilian nurses work side-by-side with active-duty service members, guard and reserve members, and government contractors to meet the goals of the MHS to provide high-quality care for service personnel, veterans, and their families.
Experts predict increasing demand for qualified nursing staff within the military health system. Lt. Gen. Telita Crosland, director of the Defense Health Agency, recently estimated a shortfall of 250,000 to 300,000 nurses. Recruiting civilian nurses is critical to closing this gap. The Defense Health Agency is tackling this shortfall with creativity and innovation, but recruiting and retaining highly skilled civilian nurses remains a priority.
Understanding the Unique Opportunities and Challenges of Working Within the Military Health System
While many of the duties of nurses working within the military health system are comparable to those of the private sector, the priorities and culture of the Defense Health Agency (DHA) present unique opportunities and challenges. Not only is the MHS committed to meeting the healthcare needs of active-duty personnel, veterans, and their families, but the agency must ensure combat readiness and be prepared to meet global healthcare needs in the event of disasters and pandemics.
For active-duty personnel and their families, many medical services are accessible through hospitals and specialty clinics. The system includes 45 MHS-operated hospitals/inpatient facilities, 566 military ambulatory care and occupational health clinics, and 117 dental clinics. Military bases, the vast complexes often resembling small cities, house many of these hospitals and clinics. These bases can host branches like the Air Force, army, or Navy. The primary goal of these medical facilities is to ensure that service members receive the best medical care possible, whether they’re dealing with injuries sustained during military service or common illnesses.
On military bases, civilian nurses fulfill many of the same roles within the civilian healthcare system. They care for patients experiencing illness and those who have sustained injuries. They deliver babies, meet patient needs during hospitalization, and are there to support patients experiencing mental health care needs. Civilian nurses on military bases typically work full-time, though part-time positions may also be available. Their roles can vary, from working in trauma centers treating acute injuries to more general nursing roles in a military hospital setting.
Unlike military nurses, civilian nurses are not part of the military chain of command, nor are they deployed to combat assignments. They partner with military nurses and other healthcare staff and their work within the system provides resilience and continuity when their military counterparts are deployed.
Unlike military nurses, civilian nurses are not part of the military chain of command, nor are they deployed to combat assignments. They partner with military nurses and other healthcare staff, and their work within the system provides resilience and continuity when their military counterparts are deployed.
There are many benefits to becoming a civilian nurse in the MHS. For registered nurses seeking employment opportunities, considering a civilian nursing job on a military base can be a lucrative option. Not only do they get to work in state-of-the-art medical facilities, but they also get the chance to serve those who dedicate their lives to military service. This sense of purpose can be gratifying. Moreover, working on a military base allows civilian nurses to gain insights into military life, culture, and the unique health challenges service members face. Such exposure can be invaluable for personal and professional growth.
However, there are challenges to consider. Military bases are often located in remote areas. For some, that may be a significant lifestyle change. Additionally, given the nature of military service, in military settings, civilian nurses often encounter a higher number of patients who have experienced physical and emotional trauma cases than in a typical civilian hospital. Being prepared mentally and emotionally is crucial to a successful career within the military health system.
Qualifications and How to Apply
Specific qualifications for civilian nurses interested in working on military bases will vary based on the position. Generally, one needs to be a registered nurse with a valid license. Prior experience, especially in trauma care or specialized fields, can be an added advantage. Respect and appreciation for military culture are essential. Special programs exist to recruit military spouses, veterans, and wounded warriors.
There are two main paths to securing a position as a civilian nurse. One is to work directly for the Military Health System, and the other is to work as a contractor through government healthcare contractors like Epic Government.
Civilian nurses play a crucial role in ensuring the health and well-being of our military personnel. While it comes with its set of challenges, tangible and intangible rewards make it a career option worth considering for those in the nursing profession. For those passionate about nursing and interested in creating a difference in the lives of our service members, it’s an opportunity like no other.