Applying to Medical School

Military Medicine: 3 Ways To Serve, Plus Scholarship Options

If you’ve considered joining the military to reduce the financial burden of medical school, you’re not alone! 

The average medical student graduates with just over $200,000 in debt. On a typical repayment plan, the total cost can exceed $400,000. At such a steep price, it’s not surprising that many students look for ways to lessen that burden.

Will the military pay for medical school? The military will cover the cost of medical school for students attending The Uniformed Services University School of Medicine (USU) or accepted into the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP). The military will also provide some money in the form of stipends and part-time pay for medical students in Reserve or Guard programs.

Let’s take a look at how a military medical career may work for you.

How To Serve In the Military While In Medical School

There are generally three ways to combine a career in medicine with one in the military. Both of the first two scenarios will require you to serve on active duty and complete military training in addition to your medical training. 

USU or the HPSP also covers the cost of all of your medical education, while the more flexible part-time option involves stipends rather than total tuition coverage.

  • Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences (USU). This federal university provides you with extensive military training along with your medical education. As USU acceptance requires a minimum of 7 years of military service, this route is often considered by pre-med students seeking a career-long (or at least extensive) military career.
  • Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP). If you’re mostly concerned with reducing the financial burden of medical school with short-term military service, the HPSP might be your best choice. This scholarship program covers the cost of your tuition at any accredited medical college and is a year-for-year payback program, with a minimum payback of 2 years on active duty. You’ll receive military training as a commissioned officer, so when you start your service commitment, you’ll feel prepared.
  • Part-Time Military Medical Service. You can serve as a Guard or Reserve commissioned officer to cover some of the cost of your education or living expenses while in medical school. This option is more flexible and requires no active-duty service, although it will not cover your total medical school bill.

The primary differences between the paths are the length of your military commitment, the depth of your training, and the amount of tuition coverage you’re eligible to receive.

Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences (USU or USUHS)

This Department of Defense institution in Bethesda, Maryland is commonly referred to as “America’s Medical School.” Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) offers an excellent medical education program with unique military medical training.

Medical students attending USU do not pay tuition. They are considered active duty, commissioned officers, receiving a salary, housing allowance, and benefits while in school. In exchange, USU students commit to a seven-year active duty service obligation after completing their residencies.

Part of the education at USU includes learning to handle situations most civilian doctors won’t have to encounter. These include training for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive emergencies (among others). 

Students also are trained as military members, learning how to fire and load weapons, put on and take off protective gear, and how to triage extensive trauma.

This path is best suited for students who plan on having a long-term military career. The thorough immersion in military medicine, fostering strong leadership, and healthcare skills extend beyond the norm in civilian medicine.

Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP)

The Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) is offered by the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Public Health Services Corps. This scholarship program covers full tuition and a monthly stipend for living expenses. In addition, all school-related expenses, such as fees and textbooks, are also covered.

HPSP students have the opportunity to explore military medical training during their med school rotations. As part of the program, students receive an officer’s commission as a second lieutenant in the Army or Air Force or an ensign in the Navy, which includes attending officer training before, during, or after their school years.

In exchange, students make a service commitment to their sponsoring military branch. This commitment amounts to a year of active duty military service for each year of participation in the HPSP scholarship (minimum of two years of service).

A note on residency: If your residency training is longer than four years, you will owe back the amount paid beyond four years of residency. For example, a 5 year residency would entail 5 years of service after residency.

The service obligation starts after the completion of the student’s residency.

The application process for HPSP is competitive, assessing candidates based on GPA, MCAT scores, personal interviews, and physical fitness. If your scores are competitive enough, you may be eligible for automatic acceptance for the scholarship pending an acceptance letter from an accredited medical school.

MedSchoolCoach has a team of Physician Advisors that can help you stand out among military medical school applicants.

Part-Time Military Medical Service

Part-time military medical service is an option with which a med student can balance a civilian career with a commitment to serving in the military in a Reserve program.

Part-time physicians can work in both military and civilian facilities. Most reserve program options require one year of service obligation for every 6 months of assistance. For example, 4 years of receiving assistance through a reserve program would equate to 8 years of service obligation as a reservist starting after completing residency. Medical students and residents are not required to participate in any “drilling” which would pull them away from their education or training.

Medical students and residents can benefit from stipend programs that help offset the costs of schooling. The flexible training schedules of part-time service in the military can enable them to pursue their medical education, training, and practice in the civilian sector, while also performing military service.

Several programs offer stipends in exchange for service commitments, including:

  • Medical and Dental Student Stipend Program (MDSSP) 
  • Specialized Training Assistance Program (STRAP)
  • Training in Medical Specialties (TMS)
  • Air Force Reserve Stipend Program

These options bring military experience into a medical career, provide a flexible way to serve, and give you the ability to continue pursuing a civilian medical career.

The opportunities as a part-time military member can enhance one’s career in medicine, making it a worthwhile consideration for any prospective medical student.

Military Medicine vs. Traditional Medicine

You can expect military medicine training and traditional medical schools to share the same basic curriculums. In each, you’ll take basic sciences, such as anatomy, biochemistry, microbiology, pathology, and pharmacology, followed by clinical clerkships.

What is the difference between military medical school and civilian medical school? The primary difference between military medical school and civilian medical school is the additional training necessary to serve as commissioned officers and leaders in military medicine. There is also a separate matching process and you will (for the most part) attend residency at a military medical center.

Another major difference between military medical school and civilian medical school is the financing. Traditional medicine typically involves student loans for medical school, which can lead to substantial debt.

After completing medical school and residency, both military and civilian physicians have the opportunity to extend their training through a fellowship, or begin their careers as attending physicians.

In the case of military members (USU or HPSP graudates), fellowship training will incur further service commitments.

Can you become a medical doctor in the military? You can become a medical doctor concurrent with military service, either by going to the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences or applying for the Health Professions Scholarship Program. Like all prospective doctors, you’ll still need to qualify for, apply to, and be accepted to medical school.

Military physicians are often tasked with addressing the health needs of a broader population, from service members to their families and even veterans.

While their focus is broader, the training is very similar. Military doctors’ work also extends beyond individual patient care to encompass public health concerns and emergency medical responses.

Career Paths In Military Medicine

A military medical career offers multiple paths for progression, each with a unique focus. There are four primary paths in military medicine:

  • Command: For those interested in leadership roles within the military medical infrastructure, command roles require strong leadership skills and a comprehensive understanding of both military operations and healthcare administration.
  • Academic: For those with a passion for teaching and research, the academic path may start as an assistant professor at a military medical school, like USU or in residency programs.
  • Operations: Medical officers who wish to stay close to the operational side of the military serve in various roles that support the health of active-duty military personnel. They might serve as battalion surgeons in combat units or flight surgeons supporting aviation units.
  • Research: Depending on your specialty, there are specific careers for physicians to pursue unique research opportunities in the military.

Each of these career paths offers a different way to serve your country while pursuing personal and professional growth. The pathway a physician chooses will depend on their individual interests, skills, and career goals.

How To Apply To Medical School and Finance Through the Military

It is important to remember that you are joining the military for medical school, you have to both apply to medical school and go through the recruitment process. 

Unlike civilian medical school, you’ll have to pass a physical screening examinations and a security investigation prior to being accepted into military medical school.

Commissioning in the Military

Each branch of the U.S. military has its own set of eligibility requirements for commission. Talk to a local recruiter for more information to see if you are eligible.

Do I have to attend a military academy to go to military medical school? No, you do not have to attend a military academy to go to military medical school or be accepted to HPSP. However, to enroll in any military branch as a commissioned officer, you are required to have a degree from an accredited four-year college.

Applying to Military Medical School or HPSP

Whether you choose to go to USU for medical school or take advantage of the HPSP scholarship, you’ll need to use AMCAS for your application. We also recommend talking with a military recruiter during the process.

Applying to Attend USU

Much like a traditional medical school application, prospective military medical students must complete a pre-med undergraduate program and take the MCAT.

Is it hard to get into military medical school? The minimum requirement for a GPA is 3.0 (using undergraduate, graduate, and/or postbaccalaureate work). While that’s the minimum, the average matriculant has a 3.7 GPA. An MCAT score of 496 is also required. The average matriculant MCAT score for USU is 511. Your application will be automatically withdrawn if you do not meet these minimum requirements.

After submitting your AMCAS application, a supplemental application (essentially, a secondary application) will be emailed. You MUST fill this out for your file to be sent to the Admissions Committee.

After receiving your supplemental application, you will be notified via email if you’ve been selected for an interview. Only about 600 applicants are invited for interviews. During your interview, the interviewers will evaluate your potential and motivation to be a military doctor. 

The AMCAS application period starts June 1st. USU works on a rolling admissions basis, so it is advisable to get your applications in early. They begin sending offers as early as October 15th.

Applying for HPSP

There are a limited number of HPSP scholarships available. You’ll have to talk to a recruiter for each service you are applying to. You are permitted to apply to all three participating branches, if you wish.

You’ll need to submit your application to a recruiter. After that, your application process goes through your recruiter.

Once you have been accepted to a program, you need to contact your recruiter to complete the final pieces of the application. If you have been accepted to more than one service branch, you need to choose which one you would like to join.

A primary difference between HPSP and attending USU is that HPSP recipients can attend any accredited medical program in the United States. You aren’t limited to only one medical school.

Learn how we can help you stand out in your medical school application.

Military Match

Applicants will still apply for residency through ERAS, but they will complete a rank order list through MODS (Military Operational Data System). The civilian Match process happens in February/March, but the Military Match is released in mid-December of an applicant’s fourth year of med school. 

Military Medicine Residency

Residency medical training in military medicine adheres to the basic medical tenets practiced in civilian programs, but combines medical specializations with military training. This prepares physicians for a broad range of situations they might encounter while serving in the armed forces.

After completing medical school, physicians in the military usually move directly into a military residency program, which can be done at a military medical center or, in some cases, a civilian institution. The training is geared toward both gaining clinical proficiency and developing the skills necessary to serve as a medical corps officer.

Military physicians learn to work in different environments, such as military treatment facilities, field hospitals, and even on ships. They may also be trained in specific military medical procedures such as combat casualty care.

The military’s focus on ensuring the overall health and readiness of its personnel requires an understanding of disease prevention, occupational health, and environmental medicine. A distinctive aspect of a military residency is the integration of public health, cutting-edge technologies, and preventive medicine into the curriculum.

Is a military medical career right for you?

Going to medical school through the military isn’t for everyone, but it can be a very noble and rewarding path. You’ll need to take your career goals, commitment to service, and personal circumstances into consideration. 

Whether you choose to attend USU, apply for the HPSP scholarship, or follow another path, each option offers rewarding and challenging opportunities in the healthcare profession. And, of course, you will get the distinct privilege to serve your country. 

If serving in the military is something you are interested in doing, contact a recruiter in the branch of your interest.

Our friends at MedSchoolCoach offer comprehensive med school application consulting. Speak with a member of their enrollment team who can help you prepare a standout application for med school.

David Flick MD

David graduated Magna Cum Laude from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California with a BS in biology where he was heavily involved in high school and university level tutoring. He then moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand where he worked as a high school mathematics teacher at an international baccalaureate school. In the two years prior to starting medical school, he volunteered in seven different countries throughout Asia with international medical aid programs. David attended medical school at UC Irvine after receiving the Army health professions scholarship. He served on the admissions committee for four years including working on the selection committee board. He completed a family medicine residency program in Oahu, HI and served on the residency admissions committee. He is board certified in family medicine and now works as a flight surgeon for the Army.

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