The essential difference between civilian nursing and Air Force nursing is the fundamental understanding that you are choosing to adopt a lifestyle, not just a job.
I cannot emphasize this point enough.
Pros of AF nursing: You may have experiences that few others will have. In my AF career I have lived in Germany for 3 years, flown a patient with one other nurse for 8 hours alone on an empty C-5 cargo plane chartered just for our patient, I have studied Russian in Russia for a month while receiving full pay, and I have packed and shipped by professional movers during every move. When we had our baby, our co-pay for the entire pregnancy and delivery was a whopping $0.
From peers that have practiced in civilian ICUs, they relate that our pace is much more tolerable, and have have more help that come in the form of our medical technicians, who can accomplish many functions reserved for RNs otherwise (including lab draws, IV insertions, central line draws,
Cons of AF nursing (depending on our outlook): You may have experiences that few others will have. Scheduling can become hectic, and you have limited ability to 'turn down' a shift or adjust your schedule in a pinch. We don't have the ability to 'call in' if you have a BBQ/party/mental health day at the last minute. You will be ready to deploy overseas in support of military operations, and as such you will become familiar with operating a 9mm handgun, putting on chemical protection gear, and packing 3 months of uniforms, toiletries, and personal effects into 2 duffel bags. You may receive an assignment to a floor that you don't want, but you will be expected to become proficient and perform safely before being moved to another section. With few exceptions, AF nurses begin with a medical-surgical position. This is because one of our essential functions, as nurses, is to care for large numbers of patients and med-surg (or similiar) is the best way to build these skills.
The hours-worked question can vary. My personal experience, based on 4.5+ years (and still counting) of active duty AF nursing in acute care (med-surg, ER, ICU) is that we work 7 12-hour shifts every two weeks. We take shifts off for federal holidays (?8/year?) and extra 'family days', though in my current assignment the majority of these holidays aren't scheduled in advance, instead I'm called off 3-4 hours before shift due to low census. When we have mandatory training (ACLS, training for deployment, etc) that is factored in and takes the place of bedside work. Some assignments are better than others for ability to do non-bedside activities on 'duty time'. In my previous assignment, I attended TNCC, ACLS, PALS, and a host of other training on duty time. In my present unit, ACLS is it, all others in my off time. All, however, are free.
Hours worked in clinic positions are whole other ballgame; I'm not qualified to advise.
You mentioned that you are still in school- I went to school on an ROTC scholarship
, which was quite nice. Depending on where you are at geographically and year (fresh/soph/etc) and could transfer, this option is worth looking into.
You should consider visiting a base with a good-sized hospital for a few days. This can be arranged through a 'Health Professions Recruiter', and would offer some opportunities to see firsthand what we do in the AF.
The point to remember is that accepting a commission in the AF is an understanding that you will be adopting a lifestyle, not just a job. Many of us enjoy the honor. PM me if you have more questions...