Comparing life as a nurse in the Navy and in the civilian world is about more than just the money. The two career paths have the same goal -- to provide superior health care to all -- but the journeys to that goal are very different. Comparing salaries means also comparing work settings, opportunities, benefits and overtime compensation. When you weigh the two side by side, your ultimate decision may have nothing to do with money; then again, it just might.
Let's get down to the bare bones of money. Registered nurses averaged $65,470 a year in 2012, according to O*Net Online. Nurses straight out of college averaged $50,910 during their first year and after 20 years were bringing home about $77,627. These numbers fluctuate, depending largely upon what state and what health care settings nurses work in. South Carolina, for instance, has lower figures, while California's numbers are far higher. These figures also assume that these nurses don't return to school to advance their educations or receive promotions, both of which can earn a nurse significantly more money.
Entering the Navy as a registered nurse earns you a beginning rate of O-3. To demystify this, the "O" stands for officers and the "3" denotes the rank level. The higher the number, the greater the responsibilities, respect and money the officer has earned. A nurse at the O-3 rate is a lieutenant and, as of 2013, earned $3,835 a month in her first two years of service, or $46,020 a year. If she remains at this rate, which is unlikely, after 20 years she'd earn $6,240 a month, or $74,880. Once again, we're leaving out promotions and educational advancements to keep the scales even.
Nurses in the civilian world usually have great health and life insurance as well as competitive retirement plans. Depending on the employer, nurses may also receive sign-on bonuses, covered travel expenses and tuition reimbursement. The Navy offers these as well. Depending on the Navy's current needs, nurses may qualify for up to $40,000 in sign-on bonuses, and not only can they get their tuition expenses reimbursed, they can receive student loan repayment as well. In addition to pay, Navy personnel receive housing allowances to cover the cost of rent or mortgage. They may also receive food allowances as well as additional bonuses for situations such as deployment. The Navy's life insurance plans are $250,000 coverage for $16 a month or $400,000 for $26 a month.
Civilian nurses work in hospitals, doctors' offices and clinics. They may work 9 to 5 or rotating shifts of 10 to 12 hours, and they receive overtime pay. Navy nurses may also work in hospitals, or they may work on a Navy ship for deployments of up to six months at a time. The Navy even has two ships, the USNS Comfort and the USNS Mercy, that are dedicated hospital ships. Nurses may work on U.S. soil or on military bases in places like Japan, Germany, Hawaii and Guam. They don't get overtime, but officers in the Navy earn 30 days of vacation time each year, which can roll over for a maximum of 60 days.