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Army vs Navy Nurse

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by SevenEroRN SevenEroRN (New Member) New Member Nurse

SevenEroRN specializes in ICU.

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Hi everyone! I've been lurking on this forum for a couple of years, and I finally created an account to ask for a little input. :) I'm a new-ish associates degree RN, getting my BSN this December, started working as an ICU nurse right out of school (January 2018). I'm also prior service USMC and currently enlisted in the Air National Guard.

I met with an Army healthcare recruiter the other day who happens to be a currently serving ICU nurse (Army and civilian), and he provided a very detailed picture of what life is like in the Army for ICU nurses. He really sold me based on the deployments (a lot of autonomy being able to prescribe medications and mentor LPN's and medics!) and the true sense of being on a tight knit team. That's exactly what I'm looking for and haven't found in civilian nursing. The options for assignment locations are limited to 5-6 medical centers, but the deployments are aplenty.

Today I spoke with a Navy officer recruiter who just started as a recruiter in January and definitely sounds really green. He was already talking paperwork before I even asked a single question. But, I've always loved the Navy ever since I was kid because my dad was in the Navy (enlisted) and 2 of my aunts were Navy Nurses. I feel like I need to base my decision on more than "I've always loved the Navy", so I'm hoping someone here can tell me what ICU nurse life is really like in the Navy today.

Is there a strong sense of team? How often are ICU nurses actually on a ship and for how long? The recruiter said I would very rarely, if ever, be on a ship as an ICU nurse, but I saw a post on here that says I would definitely be on a ship BECAUSE I'm an ICU nurse. So which is true? What is life like on a ship? If I'm on a ship, will there be other nurses too? Will it always be a carrier? Do those rock and roll less because they're bigger? What's a typical day and PT like as a Navy nurse?

The only real advantage I can see that the Navy has over the Army (besides loving it for no real reason) is that they have a greater number assignment locations. I haven't looked into it yet, but I imagine both branches offer some type of FNP option should I decide to pursue that route.

Thanks in advance for your input!

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jfratian has 7 years experience as a MSN, RN and specializes in ICU.

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I say this as an Air Force nurse:  Special duty assignments are very limited in number in any branch.  From conversations with Navy nurses, the only nurses on ships are those on the 2 hospital ships and those on the 10 aircraft carriers.  That's not good odds considering the over 300 ships in the navy.  ICU nurses in any branch are limited to only a handful on bases.  As a Navy ICU nurse, you pretty much go to San Diego, Portsmouth, or Walter Reed.  

I don't find that nursing is significantly different between the 3 branches, so don't stress too much about it.  I would look at sign-on bonuses, starting rank, and duty locations.

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I’ve been a Navy nurse for almost five years now and can offer some perspective. My first duty station was a large joint command as a new grad, working alongside plenty of Army and a few Air Force nurses, so I know a bit about how the branches differ. 

 

If your priority is ICU, I would honestly recommend Army or Air Force. In the eyes of the Navy, a nurse is a nurse is a nurse. It is true that nurses who have their CCRN get a special ICU designator, a nice annual bonus, and far more deployment & operational opportunities than many others, but the Navy will prioritize its own needs first. This means that your regular day-to-day job will be whatever your command needs. For example, I am now at a small overseas command. We have plenty of ICU nurses stationed here in case things hit the fan...however, in our daily operations, OB is by far this hospital’s busiest specialty. Whereas Army & (I think) Air Force would only have a specialized L&D nurse working the labor deck, in the eyes of the Navy, a nurse is a nurse... as such, we have nurses of all backgrounds delivering babies, including a few disgruntled ICU nurses.  Even though this is not what I ever planned on doing, I am still incredibly grateful for the learning experiences I’ve had through the Navy. However, if this sounds like a nightmare scenario to you, I would encourage you to more strongly consider Army or Air Force. That said, the majority of my friends who have that coveted ICU designator (or ED or OR) have had opportunities to deploy. Ship experience is more rare and more competitive, but I have seen a few nurses with my level of experience selected for that as well.

 

In contrast, the Army specializes most of their nurses (ICU, ER, OR, L&D) and will send nurses only where that exact specialty is in demand. Their duty stations are not as glamorous as ours and they might not have the more unique shipboard opportunities, but if your focus is more-narrowly ICU, it may be a better fit for you.  

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I just realized I forgot to answer some of your actual questions. 

 

Day-to-day you would most likely be working at a hospital, probably stateside. My previously-civilian friends say that one of the biggest adjustments is being on salary, meaning no overtime. Most military hospitals will expect 7 shifts in a 14-day pay period (one more than most civilian hospitals, from what I hear). There will also be an expectation that you’re coming in on your off time for collateral duties (side tasks and committees), on call, etc. As you already know, the military makes up for this somewhat by providing awesome benefits. These benefits include education. The Navy has a duty under instruction program that is pretty sweet. (Full military pay & benefits for the entire time you’re in school with x amount of years owed back after.) The exact programs that are eligible vary year to year. (This year CNM and a few other less operational options were cut. I don’t know about FNP.) If DUINS doesn’t work for you, your GI Bill can also be applied to grad school.  

We have not done daily PT at either of my commands, just our twice yearly physical readiness test.

There is also really great camaraderie, as you mentioned. When I get out, this is the #1 thing I will miss. 

Edited by elisabethm

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jfratian has 7 years experience as a MSN, RN and specializes in ICU.

1,323 Posts; 11,826 Profile Views

I also thought it was worth pointing out that DHA just started posting DHA jobs for this next assignment cycle.  That means that while stateside, you will eventually have your pick of any CONUS nursing job in any Navy, Army, or Air Force base.  

As the years go on, I suspect it will become successively more and more unimportant which branch you join as a medical person.

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