Military Nursing as an Adjunct Career – The Reserve Nurse

Last Updated/Verified: Jan 11, 2020

Nearly 10,000 nurses serve in the U.S. Military Reserve or National Guard each year. Of these nurses, the vast majority of them have thriving civilian nursing careers as well. Balancing the day-to-day civilian job and family activities with the expectations of weekend drills and exercises as a commissioned officer in the U.S. military requires dedication, logistics, support, and skill.

These citizen-soldiers, sailors and airmen join the military for many reasons; career goals, retirement benefits, leadership training, and military professionalism. Many reservists served in active duty as either a nurse, medic, or corpsman before joining the reserve to pursue life and education while keeping a foot in the military world.

The Nurse Corps has five Reserve components and, although similar, each branch has its own commitment requirements:

Army Reserve

The Army Reserve requires an 8-year commitment with service from three to six years. At least one weekend per month the nurse will serve in a civilian hospital or clinic close to home or in an Army field medical unit for training in establishing mobile triage units and how to manage mass casualties. Annual training is an additional two-weeks per year and is set in a variety of healthcare settings. Annual training may also consist of specialty training, professional development courses or leadership training. Nurses serving in the Army Reserve may also be called to provide care and support for humanitarian missions such as natural disasters or conflicts abroad. Full-duty service activation may be required based on the needs of the U.S. military. Read more about the Army Nurse Corps.

Navy Reserve

The Navy Reserve requires a two to six-year service commitment, depending on the nursing specialty. At least one weekend per month the nurse will serve in a civilian hospital or clinic close to home. Annual training is an additional two-weeks per year where a nurse could serve anywhere around the world, whether at sea, in Naval hospitals, or in bases or camps overseas. Annual training consists of specialty training, professional development courses, or leadership training. Nurses serving in the Navy Reserve may also be called to provide care and support for humanitarian missions such as natural disasters or conflicts abroad. Full-duty service activation may be required based on the needs of the U.S. military. Read more about the Navy Nurse Crops.

Air Force Reserve

The Air Force Reserve requires an initial 6-year service commitment with subsequent contracts at two to six-year service commitments, depending on the nursing specialty. At least one weekend per month, the nurse will serve in a civilian hospital or clinic close to home. Another option (based on previous military service and nursing specialty) is serving as an Individual Mobilization Augmentee that serves on a more flexible schedule, with the same service time. Annual training is an additional two-weeks per year and, depending on specialty and rank, can typically be served at a local civilian or Air Force medical facility. Annual training consists of specialty training, professional development courses, or leadership training. Nurses serving in the Air Force Reserve may be called to provide care and support for humanitarian missions such as natural disasters or conflicts abroad. Full-duty service activation may be required based on the needs of the U.S. military.

Air National Guard

Nurses who serve in the Air National Guard, a component of the U.S. Air Force, usually have civilian nursing roles outside of their military service and are typically intensive care nurses where their skills easily translate to flight nursing. Caring for injured military personnel, nurses in the Air National Guard are responsible to provide direct care during transport or to coordinate care of those requiring air evacuation. The Air National Guard is different than active duty Air Force nurses in the fact that a Governor of the state can enact the Air National Guard to deploy as well as mandates from the President of the United States.

Commitment to the Air National Guard includes 8 years of service with three to six-years of active service depending on your specialty. The 2-week annual training is served at a local civilian hospital or a military medical facility near the nurse's home in order to serve the community. Nurses serving in the Air National Guard may be called to provide care and support for humanitarian missions such as natural disasters. Full-duty service activation may be required based on the needs of the U.S. military.

Army National Guard

Nurses who serve in the Army National Guard are an integral part of the Army Nurse Corps. By providing leadership and care to soldiers and their dependents, Army National Guard Nurses organize care in the inpatient and outpatient settings, act as command for nursing units in field hospitals, and supervise all nursing care provided during shifts across all units of care. The Army National Guard is different than active duty Army in the fact that a Governor of the state can enact the National Guard to deployment as well as mandates from the President of the United States.

Commitment to the Army National Guard includes 8 years of service with three to six-years of active service depending on specialty. The 2-week annual training is served at a local civilian hospital or a military medical facility. Nurses serving in the Army National Guard may be called to provide care and support during events such as natural disasters. Full-duty service activation may also be required.

Benefits

Although each program is focused to the associated branch, the overall benefits for nurses serving in the reserves and guard are the same:

  • Competitive pay
  • Student loan repayment
  • Scholarships
  • Healthcare benefits
  • Life insurance
  • Enlistment and reenlistment bonus programs
  • Military retirement plan
  • Base exchange and commissary shopping privileges
  • Free space-available air travel
  • Legal assistance
  • Eligibility for VA home loans

Pay

According to Chron.com, nurses in the reserves and national guards earn a base pay from $6,000 to $23,000 per month based on years of service and specialty area. Additional bonus money is paid for deployments, working in hazardous areas and re-enlistment.

Read more about military nurse salary.

Balance

Nurses who serve in a Reserve or National Guard capacity exist in two different, yet complementary worlds. Being able to juggle the daily civilian work and lifestyle requirements with the military commitment is both challenging and rewarding. Many nurses who serve both state that each role complements and challenges the other. For example, Lt. Colonel Charlene Taylor stated that her role as the Chief Executive Officer at the civilian hospital system complemented her role as the Chief Officer for a flight crew with the United States Air Force Reserve. She believed that polices, standards and structures were important for both roles, which she performed simultaneously for nearly 15 years. Support from the civilian job to perform Reserve or National Guard duties is also essential to living a successful part-time military career. Although military obligation is protected under federal labor law, the culture and attitude of leaders and co-workers to perform Reserve or National Guard duties goes beyond the law and can affect working conditions for the nurse. Nurses choosing a military career must inform their employer of their service requirements with as much advance notice as possible. Nurses can also inform and integrate their civilian colleagues with their military life by keeping them informed of the important and valuable work they are performing for their country.

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