Military Medicine: Is the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) right for me?
Updated: Jul 19, 2022
It is common for pre-meds to flirt with the idea of joining the military in exchange for a full ride to medical school as the fear of tremendous debt can often be overwhelming. The monetary incentive is significant, but there are many more aspects of military service that make this avenue worth considering for those entering the medical field. My goal is not to recruit you for the military, but to provide you with valuable resources to help you make a confident and well-informed decision.
The HPSP is a scholarship program is offered by the Army, Navy, National Guard, and Air Force for medical students who are also interested in serving in the military. These scholarships can come in 2, 3, and 4-year options. The application process can be just as extensive as applying to medical school. It includes background checks, your updated resume, letters of recommendation, school transcripts, and several other documents. It also requires a full health physical, usually on a military base, as well as interviews by current or retired military physicians. The entire process could take as long as 6-10 months, but a good recruiter will walk you through it and assist you with every step.
The compensation is fairly similar across all branches. The military will pay for your full tuition, provide you with a monthly stipend (~$2,200), as well as a $20,000 signing bonus when you officially join. When you are active duty you will be paid the standard active duty compensation for your rank (Second Lieutenant or Ensign). The military will also provide reimbursement for things like textbooks, stethoscopes, National Board Exams (STEP 1 and 2), residency application fees, and health insurance provided by your school. Their goal is to reduce your financial burdens so you can focus on studying to be the best physician you can be.
What you owe the military:
During medical school:
Your military commitment during school is relatively mild compared to your future career. When you begin your scholarship, you are considered a reservist, but you are required to be active duty 45 days out of the year. Don’t worry, this does not mean you will be deployed in the middle of medical school. These Active Duty Tours (ADTs) are completed through officer training school (usually the summer after your first year) as well as several other training programs that are unique to your military branch. For example, the Air Force has an Aerospace Medicine Primary (AMP) course that serves as your next ADT following officer training. During your 3rd and 4th year there are options to do “campus tours” in which you are considered active duty but are simply completing your clinical clerkships for school.
After medical school:
If you are on a 4-year scholarship, then you will owe the military 4 years of service. This time begins AFTER residency. You could also owe additional years if your residency is longer than 4 years; for example, if you complete a 6-year residency after medical school you owe an additional 2 years. There can also be some differences depending on what type of residency you end up going into (military vs civilian). It pretty much comes down to 3 options:
-Active Duty residency: This is considered a military residency which has a separate Match system than civilian programs. You’ll owe the same amount of years as when you entered residency. This would be 4 years if you had a 4-year scholarship.
- Civilian Sponsored: In this situation, you would continue with a civilian residency, but the military is paying (sponsoring) you. You owe however many years your residency is plus the number of years you owed before you entered residency (I.e. HPSP = 4 + EM residency = 3 for grand total of 7 years owed).
- Civilian Deferred: This is like saying “time-out” with the military when you graduate medical school. You are paid by the civilian residency you attend as if you are a regular civilian. When you complete the residency, you are saying “time-in” and resume with your 4-year commitment. You won’t owe any extra time, basically, you’ll start paying back time that you owed from HPSP when you enter active duty after residency.
GMO: General Medical Officer (GMO) tours are a component of military medicine, but their frequency and modality vary depending on the branch you serve in. A GMO is more or less a primary care physician and leader within their unit. They are deployed and serve alongside other military healthcare personal to ensure the health and safety of our soldiers, sailors, and marines. Each component of time you spend on a GMO will be deducted from the service that you owe for the scholarship. Some people spend this time as flight surgeons, general practitioners, or something else entirely.
Where do I start:
Take a look at the helpful links below for more information. If you’d like to take the next step in applying, then contact your local recruiter. Recruiter locators can be found on the main Air Force/Navy/Army websites. You can call or email them and tell them you are interested in applying for the Health Professional Scholarship Program and they will either start assisting you themselves or direct you to a recruiter who is more specialized for healthcare applicants.
If you aren’t sure if you are interested in the military take a look at some of the links listed below. I highly encourage you to research and obtain as much information as possible before making the decision. YouTube can actually be a helpful resource to get the perspective of other HPSP applicants but take their experience with a grain of salt.
Think about what you would like to specialize in. There is a much higher need for primary care physicians than otolaryngology (ENT) specialists in the military. The more specialized the field the less demand there typically is.
Finally, discuss with your family and friends about joining the military. They can help you put together a Pros vs Cons list to make the decision that is right for you. It will ultimately be your decision, but it is not one that should be taken lightly.
Written by Kyle Deivert, Air Force 2nd Lieutenant