From Battlefield to Hospital Ward: The History of Nursing in the Army Nurse Corps
Posted by Julia Tortorice

Typically nurses work within standard medical settings (hospitals, medical centers, etc.), but some unique opportunities within nursing may appeal to those with an adventurous, patriotic, or adrenaline-fueled soul: The Army Nurse Corps (ANC). The ANC has a long and storied history. During WWII, nearly 60,000 American nurses served in the Corps, and they operated on the same hub of the front lines for the first time in American history. According to the U.S. Army Center of Military History, the ANC was a critical part of the evacuation chain, with nurses serving in various fields, including evacuation hospitals, trains, ships, and on medical transport planes. The bravery and dedication of these professionals led to an overall mortality rate of less than four percent for the injured soldiers who received care. Furthermore, adding a professional ANC advanced the fight for equity and mental healthcare.

The ANC’s historical significance

The overwhelming demand for nurses during WWII solidified it as a profession of choice for women. In fact, according to the U.S. Army Center of Military History, the Army reflected this new embrace of professionalism in nursing by granting nurses officers’ commissions as well as the same full suite of benefits afforded to other commissioned officers, which helped to resolve the conflicts presented by male medics who refused orders from female nurses in charge. In the following years, the process of familiarizing nurses with military structure and organization was formalized through the addition of a multi-week training course for nurses new to the commission structure. Additional programs were implemented over the next several years in the area of psychiatric care due to the enormous demand in the post-WWII era, making nurses critical to wartime and post-war efforts. 

Racial equity within the Army Nurse Corps was achieved far before within private industry. While the quota system artificially decreased the number of black nurses, who were initially only allowed to treat black soldiers, by 1944, increasing public pressure led to the lifting of the quota and increased the number of annual enrollees by more than twelvefold, leading to a lucrative career for people of diverse backgrounds – a rarity of the time.

Being part of the ANC: what to expect

The demand for army nurses is high, as in the private sector. In fact, due to their unique skillset, members of the ANC are often highly prized employees in major cities which experience high levels of emergency trauma patients. According to an article in Nursing Process, ANC nurses possess a wide array of critical attributes, including:

  • The ability to provide emergency care in dangerous and challenging situations, including in physical environments not conducive to critical care
  • Exceptional skills related to the handling and care of trauma patients
  • Army hospitals are considered some of the leading institutions in the U.S., meaning they can attract top talent in nursing, which translates to an exceptional environment to learn and grow within the profession

Being part of the ANC is a commitment and a life-altering decision, and it is important to explore both the positive and negative aspects of being in the ANC. So, let’s briefly look at the positives and negatives of being an Army Corps Nurse.


  • ANC nurses typically work extended hours. During conflicts, ANC nurses may frequently be required to exceed even the standard 12-hour max most nurses work.
  • Similarly to other nurses, ANC nurses have highly physical jobs. In areas of conflict, frequent running may be required for an extended time; physical fitness is of the utmost importance.
  • Being deployed; no small part of being an ANC is being deployed; in war zones and conflict areas, the United States Government can and likely will deploy you frequently, and where you land could be far from anywhere you are comfortable.
  • Being part of the ANC requires an eight-year commitment to the military; for women, this could significantly impact family planning and should be thought through before commitment.
  • You must already have your bachelor’s degree to be part of the ANC active duty.
  • Mental and physical stress on you and those you care about are part of the package as an ANC officer. You, and likely those around you, will experience profound traumas and loss.


  • You will likely receive additional compensation in the form of a sign-on bonus when enlisting in the military.
  • Unlike private industry, your pay is a direct result of rank rather than years on the job, leaving the additional potential to increase your salary.
  • The GI bill allows nurses to further their education, and “free” educational opportunities with the cost of today’s institutions are a significant plus.
  • Have the travel bug? You will likely see the nation and the world as you are deployed within the ANC.
  • Like in private practice, you can choose specialties within the ANC.
  • The benefits of enlistment are significant, and that includes ANC. The standard benefits found in traditional medical centers are included, with the addition of a housing stipend, low-cost care for your child, and educational funds to further your professional development.
  • Army nurses earn more than civilian nurses; the annual salary of ANC is currently $91,438, almost $10K more than the typical civilian nurse.
  • Plus, there is a $30,000 sign-on bonus for ANC recruits signing up for a four-year enlistment.

Interested in joining the ANC?

For individuals interested in pursuing a career within the Army Nurse Corps, what are the steps to move forward? According to the Army Nursing Corps, joining includesthe following steps:

  • For those who are active duty, a bachelor’s degree in nursing will be required; for those in reserves, a diploma or associate degree in nursing is adequate
  • You must fall between the age of 21 and 42 years old and be a U.S. Citizen
  • You must pass the national certification licensure exam (NCLEX)
  • You must also complete the Officer Basic Leadership course
  • Certifications in both Basic Life Support and potentially Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support or Pediatric Advance Life Support based on your specialty

While a career in the Army Corps of Nurses certainly isn’t for everyone, or even for most, it may be the perfect fit for some. Given the ever-rising cost of education expenses, enlistment in the ANC could save significant costs in pursuing an advanced nursing degree for those already in possession of a bachelor’s degree, or tuition reimbursement could save tens of thousands in expenses for those looking to pursue a career in nursing.