How to Become an Air Force Registered Nurse

7 Min Read Published September 19, 2023
Military fatigues with stethoscope

Air Force Nurses are healthcare professionals that provide nursing care to military personnel, military families, and individuals around the world during humanitarian missions. In this guide, we’ll explain what an Air Force nurse does, how to become one, how much they make, and more!

What is an Air Force Nurse?

Air Force nurses are registered nurses that are employed by the United States Air Force and work in a military capacity. 

Air Force nurses provide nursing and medical care to military servicemen and their families around the world through regular routine care and hospitalizations. 

Air Force nurses have very similar job responsibilities and goals as civilian nurses. Ultimately, they want to care for their patients to the best of their ability. 

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What does an Air Force Nurse Do?

Because Air Force nurses are not limited to specific hospital units or clinics, the job duties are going to vary greatly. Specific job responsibilities will be based on the area of employment.

For example, a Neonatal Intensive Care Air Force Nurse will perform very different duties than a Psychiatric Air Force Nurse. 

Basic Air Force nursing responsibilities include, 

  1. Administering medications
  2. Evaluating the effectiveness of medical treatment
  3. Educating patients, families, and support individuals regarding current medical diagnosis
  4. Orienting new nurses to unit
  5. Taking vital signs and performing nursing assessments
  6. Inventorying medical supplies and maintaining proper safety procedures
  7. Caring for patients with chronic health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension
  8. Participating in unit and hospital-based nursing committees
  9. Providing healthcare services in collaboration with other healthcare professionals
  10. Setting up triage areas in military “hotspots”
  11. Assisting in humanitarian relief efforts
  12. Providing vaccinations and healthcare services to children in locations worldwide
  13. Providing a therapeutic environment for patients, their families, and caregivers
  14. Recording patients’ medical information, assessments, and vital signs
  15. Overseeing ancillary staff, including LPNs and CNAs
  16. Performing drug screenings and physical assessments
  17. Triaging and stabilizing patients requiring immediate medical attention

Air Force Nurse Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for a registered nurse in 2022 is $81,220 per year or $39.05 per hour, but conditions in your area may vary. The BLS does not differentiate between different specialties of nursing, but reports an annual average salary of $66,808 for Air Force Nurses. reports an average hourly salary of $34.00. reports an annual median base salary of $101,696

Air Force Nurse Salary by Rank

It’s important to note that Air Force nurses are part of the United States Armed Forces, which means a nurse’s pay will correlate directly with their current rank. 

All nurses serve as officers in the military, which means the minimum pay for an Air Force nurse is the Second Lieutenant's O-1 pay grade. While the base pay might be lower than the pay for civilians, their salary is supplemented with cost of living, hazard pay, and different incentive pay.  

Air Force Officer Rankings

  1. Second Lieutenant (O-1)
  2. First Lieutenant (O-2)
  3. Captain (O-3)
  4. Major (O-4)
  5. Lieutenant Colonel (O-5)
  6. Colonel (O-6)
  7. Brigadier General (O-7)
  8. Major General (O-8)
  9. Lieutenant General (O-9)
  10. General (O-10)

In December 2019, the Department of Defense announced a pay increase of 3.1% for 2020 military pay, including officers. 

Air Force nurses will also enjoy benefits such as,

  1. Medical and dental care
  2. Sick days
  3. On-base housing, including utilities and maintenance
  4. Monthly tax-free house allowance based on rank, family status, and location for off-base residents
  5. Food allowances
  6. Retirement plan
  7. Recreation on base including golf courses, bowling alleys, tennis courts, swimming pools
  8. Enlisted and Officer Club access
  9. Youth activities center
  10. Discount shopping at on-base grocery and department stores
  11. Thrift Savings Plan
  12. Home loans
  13. 30 days of vacation with pay
  14. Lodging on military bases for a reduced cost
  15. 100% tuition assistance through GI bills and tuition assistance programs

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How Do You Become an Air Force Nurse?

Step 1: Attend Nursing School

You’ll need to earn a BSN from an accredited nursing program in order to take the first steps to become an Air Force registered nurse. The Air Force has a bachelor's degree as an entry requirement, so ADN-prepared nurses will need to earn their BSN degree through an RN-to-BSN program.

Step 2: Pass the NCLEX-RN

Become a Registered Nurse by passing the NCLEX examination.

Step 3: Gain Experience at the Bedside

The Air Force has openings for most specialties; however, the focus and highest need is in the following areas:

  1. Critical Care Nurse
  2. Emergency/Trauma Nurse
  3. Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
  4. Mental Health Nurse
  5. Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse (NICU)
  6. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
  7. Certified Nurse Midwife 
  8. Obstetrical Nurse 
  9. Operating Room Nurse (OR) 
  10. Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP)
  11. Women’s Healthcare Nurse Practitioner

Step 4: Commission in the Air Force by working with a recruiter 

Joining after nursing school requires the following qualification for eligibility according to the U.S. Air Force,

  1. Be in your senior year or a graduate of an institution accredited by the National League for Nursing or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and recognized by the Air Force Surgeon General
  2. Have a Bachelor’s of Science or Bachelors of Arts degree in Nursing (BSN or BAN)
  3. Be at least 18 years of age and not more than 48 (The age cutoff may be extended based on your specialties.)
  4. Meet physical requirements
  5. Be a U.S. citizen

Step 5: Complete Commissioned Officer Training

Over the course of 5.5 weeks through a combination of physical and classroom work. This four-phase training is required in order to join the Air Force as a nurse. 

  • Phase 1 
    • Focus on teamwork, discipline, and standardization
    • Leadership fundamentals
    • Military management
  • Phase 2
    • Understanding of Air Force culture
    • Leadership fundamentals
  • Phase 3
    • Transition from practicing leadership to becoming a leader
  • Phase 4
    • Continue to enhance leadership skills

Step 6: Earn Your Certification

There is no specific certification directly related to Air Force Nursing. Because Air Force Nurses can work in a variety of locations and units within a hospital setting, these nurses are open to a variety of advanced certifications. 

Where Do Air Force Nurses Work?

Air Force Nurses can work in a variety of healthcare settings around the world. This will include overseas bases. Nurses deployed to Air Force bases overseas will not have to obtain an international nursing license. Other work locations include,

  • Military bases, domestic 
    • Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama
    • Beale Air Force Base, California
    • Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana
    • Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina
    • Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota
    • Westover Joint Air Reserve Base, Massachusetts
    • Joint Base Andrews, Maryland
  • Military bases, international
    • Shindand Air Base, Afghanistan
    • Thule Air Base, Greenland
    • Sigonella Naval Air Station, Italy
    • Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait
    • Incirlik Air Base, Turkey
    • Moron Air Base, Spain
    • Kunsan Air Base, South Korea
  • Military hospitals, domestic
    • Andrews, MD
    • Eglin, FL
    • Keesler, MS
    • Lackland, TX
    • Langley, VA
    • Mt. Home, ID
    • Nellis, NV
  • Military hospitals, international
    • Aviano, Italy
    • Misawa, Japan
    • Landstuhl, Germany
    • Lakenheath, England
    • Osan, Japan
    • Yokota, Japan
  • Clinics
  • V.A. Hospitals
  • Pop-up nursing facilities in war zones/territories
  • Air Stations

What is the Career Outlook for an Air Force Nurse?

According to the BLS, in 2022, there were 3,172,500 Registered Nurses in the United States. By 2032, there will be a need for an additional 177,400 nurses, which is an expected growth of 6%.

Air Force nurses are the most highly sought-after military nurse positions because these nurses generally have the best quality of life and have shorter deployments than other military branches.

What are the Continuing Education Requirements for an Air Force Nurse?

Generally, in order for an individual to renew their RN license, they will need to fill out an application, complete a specific number of CEU hours, and pay a nominal fee. Each state has specific requirements, and it is important to check with the board of nursing prior to applying for license renewal.

If the RN license is part of a compact nursing license, the CEU requirement will be for the state of permanent residence. Some states require CEUs related to child abuse, narcotics, and/or pain management. 

Specific certifications will require continuing education hours for renewal. These will be specifically based on the certifications. The CEU hours needed for recertification can also be used for RN license recertification. 

A detailed look at Continuing Nurse Education hours can be found here.

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Resources for Air Force Nurses

Society of Air Force Nurses, Inc.

Military Health System

American Nurses Association

U.S. Air Force 

U.S. Air Force

U.S. Department of Defense

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Air Force Nurse FAQs

  • How do I become a nurse in the Air Force?

    • After graduating from an accredited nursing program and gaining experience at the bedside, commission in the Air Force with the help of a recruiter. After enlisting, passing all required physical requirements, and completing officer school - nurses will get their first military Air Force assignment.
  • How much does an Air Force Nurse make?

    • reports an annual median base salary of $101,696. However, an Air Force nurse's salary is dependent on their officer ranking, and these salaries are set by the federal government. 
  • How long is Air Force nursing training?

    • After enlistment into the Air Force, individuals must complete the Commissioned Officer Training, which is a 5.5-week program. It is separated into four phases to help transition from civilian life into military life. The Officer Training School is held at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.
RN $70,000 - $90,000 Bachelors Non-Bedside Air Force
Kathleen Gaines
Kathleen Gaines
News and Education Editor

Kathleen Gaines (nee Colduvell) is a nationally published writer turned Pediatric ICU nurse from Philadelphia with over 13 years of ICU experience. She has an extensive ICU background having formerly worked in the CICU and NICU at several major hospitals in the Philadelphia region. After earning her MSN in Education from Loyola University of New Orleans, she currently also teaches for several prominent Universities making sure the next generation is ready for the bedside. As a certified breastfeeding counselor and trauma certified nurse, she is always ready for the next nursing challenge.

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