Government nursing is a specialty that spans all areas of nursing in service to the federal government or other agencies. Nurses working for the government can be found worldwide. This article gives an overview of the specialty, discusses education requirements, work environment, job outlook, and provides resources for further exploration.
What is Government Nursing?
Government nurses, like their military counterparts, care for those who serve, or those who have served, but in a civilian/nonmilitary capacity. In this article, we are considering RNs as well as LPNs. Government nurses are located all over the world, from clinics to hospitals. There are literally hundreds of different roles these nurses fill for a variety of agencies and entities: everything from Department of Defense to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to the Architect of the Capitol.
Education requirements vary widely, depending on the role of the nurse. Generally speaking, more education or higher degrees correlate to higher pay. Most government that are listed on sites like usajobs.gov typically require a year of experience, though there are occasionally announcements for new grad jobs.
Government nurses work in virtually any setting where one would find nurses: clinics, hospitals, or even on reservations (Indian Health Service). From the most high-tech hospitals to one-room clinics, government nurses have thousands of different opportunities and locations. The work environment of government nurses is just as varied as those of civilians. The VA, which employs a very large amount of nurses, has more than 1,400 medical facilities in urban and rural areas throughout the US and its territories.
In the job announcements for the VA, the text reminds us of the VA's mission: "To fulfill President Lincoln's promise-'To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan'-by serving and honoring the men and women who are America's Veterans." Many government nurses consider it an honor to care for those who serve or have served. Whatever the motive, one thing that an applicant must do is ensure that his/her resume reflects the knowledge, skills, and abilities required in the job announcement and contains the key words that demonstrate suitability for the desired position. Required skills vary widely by position.
One thing that every government nurse I've known has told me was that the entire process, from application to interview to being hired and starting work, takes a very very long time. Applicants must be prepared to let the government gears do their required grinding; don't expect to be hired overnight. But another thing they have shared: it is worth the wait!
There are thousands of nursing jobs advertised on the various government career sites, from usajobs.gov to the Army CPOL site to the VA sites (see Resources section below). From all appearances, the job outlook is quite robust! There are occasional hiring freezes, but as in all sectors of nursing, as people move on to other opportunities, they must be replaced.
Of course, we all have the very recent memory of the government shutdown and furloughs. This is one of the downsides to government employment, but to its credit, the government does provide a lot of warning to employees about potential shutdowns and furloughs so that employees can prepare themselves for a period of paycheck shortages.
For many agencies, nursing jobs fall under the General Schedule (GS) salary scheme. GS pay scale information is available at Pay & Leave. I can say from personal experience that the civilian RNs in my Army ER are GS-11s and the LPNs are GS-7s.
For the VA, a different pay scale is used. The VA employs what it calls a Locality Pay System (LPS) that claims to pay competitive rates within local labor markets.
VA nursing careers
VA travel nursing
Government Nursing Jobs (including VA)
US Army Civilian PersonnelLast edit by Pixie.RN on Apr 5, '16
About Pixie.RN, MSN, RN, EMT-P Senior Moderator
Pixie.RN: a short green-eyed redhead, very tattooed, Emergency/Trauma Nurse, former CPT/66T (Army). Avid reader, addicted to good shoes, allnurses, and her Android smartphone.
Joined Aug '05; Posts: 16,437; Likes: 13,286.Oct 31, '13Thanks alot for this information. Good info for a nursing student and helps in the decision making of the paths to choose from. I work at a city hospital, not yet a nurse (student), and being a government (VA/ ARMY) nurse has always been an area of interest.
I swear I LOVE ALLNURSES.COM. Think I'm addicted because the information on here motivates me soooooo much.Nov 1, '13This article is indeed very helpful.. Im a nursing student now , and never thought about adding the VA or Governmental agencies to my list of places to apply upon graduation.... Thank you LunahRNNov 1, '13You're welcome! One agency you might want to explore in more depth is the Indian Health Service -- they have opportunities for students and new grads that include loan repayment. Career Opportunities | Indian Health Service (IHS)Nov 3, '13Hi Lunah-
I was actually looking at those , ( I have a little OCD about planning ahead!) lol, but it seems like the job offerings are really far away from home.. hopefully I will get a chance to work somewhere that I can gain tons of experience right outta the gate.Nov 3, '13Very interesting! Although this job isn't Federal, I recently interviewed with my state's Client Care Monitoring Unit for a position as a long-term care surveyor, and I am excited! The job won't start till December 9th, now I'm just waiting to see if I'll be invited back for the second round of interviews.
Just having had the opportunity to interview was awesome. The managers I spoke with really liked the fact that I've worked in all types of LTC and community-based care settings, and they also liked my answers about root-cause analysis. Which I LOVE doing, but then I am a bit of a strange bird---like when somebody falls, I not only want to know how they fell, but why they fell (what precipitated the incident? Where was the patient and what was she doing at the time? Did she fall because of the way the furniture is arranged, or because she has an orthostatic problem due to taking too much Lasix? etc. etc.)
Anyway, when I was checking up on my application on the state government website, it said I had met all of the minimum qualifications but also 100% of the desired qualifications! So I think my chances are pretty good, even though it seems unbelievable to me that I'd be in the running.Nov 4, '13Quote from CDub72That's always the plan - to find something close to home - but just be aware that many new grads have had to uproot/move to find work. Hopefully that won't be the case for you when you finish school, but it's always good to have an alternate plan in your back pocket. Best of luck!!Hi Lunah-
I was actually looking at those , ( I have a little OCD about planning ahead!) lol, but it seems like the job offerings are really far away from home.. hopefully I will get a chance to work somewhere that I can gain tons of experience right outta the gate.
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