Being a military doctor is not an easy vocation. In addition to the responsibilities and skills expected of civilian physicians, military doctors are also dutiful officers of the army they serve.
When it comes to military medical education, medical school acceptance rates demonstrate that getting into med school is not an easy task even for students looking to attend the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, a specialized, health science university of the US government. This blog will cover everything you need to know about becoming a military doctor and what to expect of a career as a medical officer.
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What are the Duties of a Medical Doctor?
If you think that being a military doctor is limited to meeting the healthcare needs of the military officers and staff, you are not seeing the full picture. Of course, providing healthcare to military staff, deployments, and service in humanitarian missions are all part of being a medical doctor. However, the Military is one of the most developed institutional branches of the United States. As a military physician, you will have amazing research opportunities, as well as opportunities to work in some of the best clinical facilities in the world.
The everyday life of a military physician includes duties and responsibilities familiar to all general practitioners and include providing comprehensive healthcare to military staff and their families. Their services include examining patients, diagnosis, illness treatment, medication prescription, and sometimes surgery. Of course, depending on your area of expertise, you will be expected to perform tasks appropriate to your specialty. If deployed, physicians and surgeons will work to provide medical care to deployed officers.
Now, let’s examine how to become a military doctor.
Education: Scholarships, Medical School, and Residency Options
Firstly, as a candidate for military medical education, you must complete an undergraduate degree in a field of your choice. Then, you can consider three paths that allow students to focus on medical studies while training to become military physicians: the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP), the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS), and a stipend for Reserve or Guard service. Whichever path you take, during your studies, you will also receive valuable officer training that will serve you no matter what career you choose to pursue.
Health Professional Scholarship Program (HPSP)
The Health Professional Scholarship Program (HPSP) allows students to be on track to becoming military doctors while attending civilian allopathic or osteopathic medical schools in the United States or Puerto Rico. For your application, you must complete all the medical school requirements and prerequisites outlined by the program of your choice.
If you become an HPSP student, your medical school experience will not be much different from that of civilians. Firstly, you will attend a civilian school along with other civilian students and you will not wear your uniform. Unlike your civilian peers, you will need to attend officer training for your specific service (Air Force, Navy, etc.). You are also expected to participate in one annual training period per year of the HPSP scholarship that you receive. These 45-day training periods also allow you to study for exams at your medical school, participate in research, or complete clinical rotations at military hospitals, not civilian hospitals. You must wear your uniform during your officer training and the annual training periods.
The HPSP students are commissioned as officers in the Individual Ready Reserve while they attend civilian allopathic or osteopathic medical school.
Throughout your medical training, the administrative staff of the HPSP scholarship program will stay in touch with you and keep you informed about any requirements, deadlines, and other information you may need about your scholarship.
How to apply:
If you are an active-duty officer, your application process will be the same as for civilians, but you will need to request a contingent release from active duty.
How you get the money: If you are an HPSP student, the Military will pay your medical school tuition, provide a living stipend, and reimburse you for any school expenses. Once you become an HPSP recipient, your Service will contact the medical school you enrolled in and start paying your tuition. You will start getting your stipend via direct deposit on the first and fifteenth of every month. Make sure to keep records of your school purchases and expenditures so you can be reimbursed. During your annual military training, you will receive the same active-duty pay and benefits as a second lieutenant in the Army and Air Force, or an ensign in the Navy.
Service commitment: After you become a licensed physician, you can postpone residency to complete some of your service commitment. It is possible to fulfill your service commitment as a General Medical Officer (GMO). This position is similar to being a general medical practitioner, but you will be attached to a specific unit, air wing, or submarine. The role of a GMO is only available to Navy and Air Force students.
Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS)
USUHS Admissions Statistics
Overall acceptance rate:
In-state acceptance rate: 7.8%
Out-of-state acceptance rate: 5.5%
Average MCAT: 510
Average GPA: 3.75
USUHS students are active-duty officers, which means they are more involved with the military and spend more time in the military environment. Students at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences are expected to wear their uniform during studies. The first 18 months of medical training are composed of coursework, including classes, labs, and medical field exercises. You will be taught by a mix of civilian and military instructors. After completing the coursework part of the curriculum, you will begin 12 months of rotations at military medical facilities. Your military clerkships will prepare you for military residency. During rotations, you will also have the opportunity to complete clerkships abroad, including humanitarian missions.
How to apply:
If you are an active-duty commissioned service officer in the Reserve Officers Training Corps or a Service academy, you will apply the same way as civilians. You will need a letter of approval (LOA) to apply to the USUHS from your Service branch. If you are an active-duty enlisted service member, you will also need an LOA from your commander. If you are in the Reserves, you will need to request permission from your commanding officer.
How you get the money: Your education at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences is paid by the US government. You will be paid the same active-duty salary and benefits as are given to a second lieutenant in the Army or Air Force or an ensign in the Navy. You can choose between getting paid monthly or on the first and fifteenth of every month.
Service commitment: After students finish their residency, they serve on active duty for seven years. Your role as a military physician will depend on your training and the Army’s needs. You can also become a GMO after you receive your license instead of pursuing a residency right after the licensing exams. Your role would be similar to a general practitioner’s and you will be attached to a specific unit, air wing, or submarine. GMO position is only available to Navy and Air Force students.
Medical School for Reserve and Guard Students
To join the Reserve and Guard program, you must apply to the incentive-based Medical and Dental Student Stipend Program (MDSSP). This scholarship program will allow you to attend medical school as a commissioned officer. You will be required to drill one weekend a month and for two full weeks during the year. Drilling consists of training in your military medical responsibilities as a physician. You will participate in the civilian Match Day and train at a civilian institution.
How you get the money: When you drill, you will be paid as a second lieutenant in the Army or Air Force or an ensign in the Navy. When not drilling, you will receive a stipend of over US$2,000/month as a participant in the MDSSP.
Students training to become military doctors apply to residency programs within the military, as well as civilian programs using ERAS. The military match takes place earlier than the civilian match, so most students are likely to get matched in December of the fourth year of med school. If you do not match to a military program, you may be authorized to participate in the civilian match.
If you are matched to a military residency, you will work at a military healthcare facility as an active-duty physician and will be paid as a captain in the Army or the Air Force, or as a lieutenant in the Navy. Note that your time in a military residency will not count towards your service commitment, but will count towards your career promotion, pay longevity, and retirement.
If you do not match to a military program, you will be allowed to participate in the civilian match and join a civilian residency program with authorization from the Military. But you MUST apply to the military match first. If you do become a civilian resident, you will work at a civilian healthcare facility and the civilian faculty will pay your salary. While in residency, you will be an officer in the Individual Ready Reserve, which means that your time in the civilian residency will count towards your promotion and pay longevity, but it will not count towards your active-duty retirement. Once you finish the program and come on active duty, you must start paying back your service commitment. At this point, you will begin to receive your military benefits.
What are the most competitive and least competitive medical residencies? Learn in our video:
It’s important to note that students training to become military physicians, whether they attend USUHS or receive the HPSP or MDSSP scholarships, will not be called to deployments or military responsibilities during their studies and must finish their medical school education in the same amount of time as civilian students, i.e., 4 years. With this in mind, let’s go over the military medical education timeline.
Military Doctor Education Timeline
All students who are on track to becoming military physicians through the HPSP, the MDSSP, or by attending the USUHS, commission as a second lieutenant in the Army or Air Force, or as an ensign in the Navy. HPSP students start their medical school studies and can attend officer training if there are openings available.
USUHS students must attend military training in the first year. The USUHS students begin 18 months of their pre-rotation curriculum, i.e., coursework, lectures, and labs, and participate in field exercises, including FTX 101, in which students learn austere medical and warrior skills, and Antietam, a re-enactment based on one of the Civil War’s major battles.
After completing the second year of medical training, all military medical students attending allopathic schools must take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 exam, while students at osteopathic schools must write their Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination of the United States (COMLEX) exam. You must present your results to the HPSP scholarship program or USUHS administrators by September 15th of your 3rd year of medical school.
If HPSP students have not done so already in their first year, they must attend officer training. If you already completed your officer training by the second year of medical school, you can participate in one annual training period, such as a research rotation or school orders. Some civilian medical schools start clerkships in Year 2, so you may begin your rotations. You will train in a variety of specialties at different hospitals, but you must complete at least one rotation at a military hospital to help you choose a military residency.
The situation is slightly different for USUHS students. After you finish with coursework, you begin clinical rotations in various military facilities across the US. You are assigned your rotations based on a lottery system and USUHS will cover your expenses, such as travel costs, accommodations, and food. This will give you a chance to learn about different military specialties available to you and help you figure out which specialties you would like to apply to for residency.
In 3rd year of medical school, HPSP students start their rotations, if they haven’t done so already. These will take place at your school and other facilities related to your medical school. You must complete at least one rotation at a military hospital to allow you the chance to apply for an interview for a military residency. Additionally, completing your clinical rotation at a military hospital can count as your annual training period, which you must do in your third year.
USUHS students continue with their clerkships and prepare for residency applications. It might be a good time to start planning your residency personal statement and brainstorming answers to the most common residency interview questions.
In the early summer of each year, the Joint Service Graduate Medical Education Selection Board (JSGMESB) posts the lists of residencies available for next year. You will work on preparing your residency applications and ranking military residencies of your choice. If you would prefer to enroll in a civilian residency, you should rank them first. In September, the JSGMESB application closes and military residencies begin the interview process. Interviews continue into October.
By October of your 4th year as a military medical student, you must provide the results of your USMLE Step 2 Clinical Knowledge or your Level 2 Cognitive Evaluation of your COMLEX. At this time, you will apply to ERAS to find a civilian residency match in case you do not match to a military residency. Remember that you must get permission from the Military to attend a civilian program.
In November/December you will also receive the results of your military residency match via email. If you match, you must withdraw from any civilian residencies you applied to and, of course, cancel any interviews you may have scheduled.
If you do not match a military residency and receive permission to apply to the civilian Match, you must wait to hear back from the civilian residency programs in March. If you do not match to a military or civilian residency, you will be expected to do a one-year civilian or military internship and reapply for residency after you complete it.
Upon graduation from medical school, you will be promoted to captain in the Army and Air Force or lieutenant in the Navy. HPSP students must complete the annual training period if they have one remaining for their scholarship. The annual training can be spent at a clinical rotation at a military hospital.
In the 4th year, the USUHS students take elective rotations abroad. They must also participate in Operation Bushmaster, a field exercise required of all fourth-year students. During this operation, you act as a trauma doctor during a simulated deployment.
Military doctors must meet certain physical, moral, and psychological requirements that would allow them to carry out not only their medical duties but also their duties as army officers. This is why the eligibility criteria for military physicians are slightly different than those of civilian doctors.
Generally, medicine welcomes all kinds of candidates. Non-traditional applicants are common and the age limit is usually not set by medical schools or application systems, whether it is AMCAS, AACOMAS, or TMDSAS. However, if you are planning to become a military doctor, you should know that age is a consideration. You must be at least 18 years old to join the Military; you can join at 17 with your parents’ consent. Each military Service and program have their own upper age limits. For example, if you are looking to join the US Army, Army Reserve, or Army National Guard, you cannot be older than 42 years old. The same age limit is applied to the Navy and Navy Reserve. For Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard, you cannot be older than 47 years old.
Furthermore, you must also be a certain age to receive educational benefits and scholarships. The Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP), which we already covered in-depth earlier in this blog, accepts applicants who are no older than 36. Equally, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) does not accept applicants older than 36 years old.
Keep in mind that age waivers are possible, but they will depend on your readiness for the military, skills, and the Military’s needs.
This one will not come as a surprise to anyone. You must be a US citizen to join the US Army, and since all military doctors are commissioned officers and serve in the military, this rule also applies to them.
Let’s start with the statistics – just like every other medical school applicant to allopathic and osteopathic medical programs, you must meet certain GPA and MCAT score thresholds. Applicants to the HPSP and USUH must have a minimum GPA of 3.0 and a minimum MCAT score of 500 to qualify. To be a competitive candidate, your GPA must be at least 3.6 and your MCAT score should be at least 506, ideally 509 and higher. Remember, last year's USUHS matriculants had an average GPA of 3.75 and an MCAT score of 510. Your MCAT cannot be older than 3 years.
All applicants to the USUHS and HPSP must have undergraduate degrees from accredited universities in the United States, Canada, or Puerto Rico. As we already discussed, HPSP allows you to become a military physician after graduating from a civilian MD or DO program in the US or Puerto Rico. So, to be eligible for and to finalize the HPSP scholarship, you must be accepted to and enroll in an accredited MD or DO program in the US or Puerto Rico.
You can become a military doctor if you are an international medical graduate, i.e., if you are a US citizen who has graduated with a foreign medical school degree. However, you must complete the following steps:
- Pass either the Foreign Medical Graduate Examination in the Medical Sciences or hold an Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates certification
- Be certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties
- Complete GME1 in the United States, Canada, or Puerto Rico
- Be licensed to practice in the US and its territories
- Be currently engaged in a clinical practice
Academic standards also include your extracurriculars for medical school and experiences that would make you a great candidate for military medicine. Just like civilian medical applicants, you must demonstrate readiness for this challenging and demanding profession, including physician shadowing, clinical experience, and research. For your reference, 81% of last year’s matriculants at the USUHS had community service and volunteer experience, 80% had physician shadowing experience, 51% had paid clinical experience, and 74% had research and lab experience.
Premed experiences of USUHS matriculants:
Physical and Psychological Standards
All candidates must undergo a physical exam. Your physical and psychological health must demonstrate that you are ready to serve in case you are deployed. The location of your physical exam will depend on the medical program you want to enter. If you are trying to get into a civilian MD or DO program and apply to HPSP, you will have your physical exam at a Military Entrance Processing Station near you. If you are an applicant to the USUHS, you will take your physical through the Department of Defense Medical Examination Review Board.
You will also need to pass a security investigation. This investigation is used to examine your history and proclivity for potentially disqualifying conditions and circumstances, such as a history of violent behavior, compulsive or addictive behavior, symptoms of possible emotional or mental problems, and so on.
Just like other medical school applicants, candidates to become military physicians must demonstrate the qualities and pre-professional competencies expected of all medical professionals. Additionally, they must showcase their readiness and suitability for the military.
Additionally, all physicians must complete one year of graduate medical education or residency, must have a valid diver’s license, and should be board certified or board eligible.
Lifestyle and Compensation
The lifestyle of military doctors is not unlike the lifestyle of civilian doctors, unless, of course, they are deployed. Army doctors typically work shorter hours than civilian physicians, have longer, regular vacations, and excellent benefits. There will also be no need to manage your own practice or deal with malpractice insurance companies. Unless they are deployed, military doctors tend to have more free time to spend with family. They also tend to have a lot of travel opportunities.
Military doctors are guaranteed maternity or paternity leave. Mothers get 6 weeks of maternity leave, while fathers receive 10 days. The Army also provides access to daycare facilities, on-base schooling, and youth activity centers. There is also the Family Readiness System (FSR), which provides support to military families during deployment, relocation, and other major life events. Another perk enjoyed by military doctors and their families is the ability to enjoy tax-free shopping and discounts available through the commissary and base exchange system.
However, being a military doctor is not for everyone. The hierarchical structure of the military can be a challenge for some physicians. Most civilian physicians enjoy a great amount of autonomy, while military doctors are limited by bureaucratic and hierarchical structures of the Army. For example, once you enlist, your superior officer will decide where you are deployed and what you do there. They may take your requests into account, but there are no guarantees. While traveling opportunities are plenty, most may consider deployment overseas, not necessarily to a war zone, as a drawback.
Military physicians enjoy comfortable salaries and great benefits, including repayment of student loans, insurance, retirement benefits, and more. All active-duty military physicians receive base pay, as well as housing and subsistence allowance, all of which increase with your rank as an officer. Typically, military physicians are promoted every 5 to 6 years.
Though the Military claims that they provide salary and benefits that are competitive with the civilian world, becoming a military doctor may not be as lucrative as being a civilian physician. Military physicians tend to receive pay and raises based on their rank and years of experience. According to Today’s Military, an official website produced by the United States Department of Defense, the average annual salary of military physicians is $120,612, though the source does not specify how this average is calculated and what this number is based on. Remember, your pay as an army doctor will depend on many factors, including your rank and years spent in the army, as well as your specialty, i.e., what kind of residency you completed.
Check out our video for more information about becoming a military doctor:
Military Doctors in Canada
The easiest way to become a doctor, and cheapest, in Canada is through the Medical Officer Training Plan offered by the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and become a military physician. Family medicine residents and students applying to or enrolled in a medical school in Canada who successfully pass the selection process are eligible for this program. The program pays for candidates' tuition, educational expenditures, including books, instruments, supplies, student fees, and registration costs.
While you are a medical student or resident in family medicine, you will get a full-time salary, medical and dental benefits, as well as vacation time with full-pay in exchange for working with the Canadian Armed Forces for a certain period of time, typically around 4 years. Students participating in this program attend medical school on a regular basis during the academic year, while dedicating their summer months to additional military training. If you decide to pursue this scholarship, you must apply to both the CAF and the MD program of your choice. For more information, please visit this page.
If you are already a member of the armed forces who wants to become a military doctor, you should check out the Military Medical Training Program (MMTP) offered by the University of Ottawa medical school and the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. You will need to fulfill all the regular admissions requirements expected of all applicants. You must use OMSAS to apply to medical school, complete an additional online application, and send in a letter directly to the Faculty of Medicine, MD Admissions office, explaining why the MMTP program is of interest to you.
1. What are the main benefits of becoming a military doctor?
Undoubtedly, there are many benefits to becoming a military doctor in the US and Canada. By joining the army as a physician, you become part of two of the most respected traditional professions in the world. Military physicians enjoy a good life/work balance, great benefits, retirement plans, and job security. The military provides great support to officers and their families, including help during deployments and relocation, health benefits, and tax-free purchases.
2. What are the disadvantages of becoming a military doctor?
While civilian physicians typically enjoy a great deal of independence, autonomy, and ability to start their own business, military doctors are restricted to practice in specialties and locations dictated by the Military. The specialty and residency you choose or match can often depend on the needs of the Military.
3. Do I have to write the MCAT if I want to become a military physician?
Most likely, yes. If you want to attend medical school through HPSP, you can try to choose a medical school that does not require MCAT, but as you know, most medical schools in the US require these test results. The USUHS also requires your MCAT score as part of your AMCAS application. To get ready, be sure to create a helpful MCAT study schedule that will cover the disciplines you need to study, your study tactics, and a great MCAT CARS strategy.
4. Are military physicians expected to participate in the same extracurriculars as other medical school applicants?
Yes, you must demonstrate that you know what you are getting into and have prepared for the rigors of the medical profession. To have a good chance of getting into a civilian medical school or the USUHS, you must gain clinical and shadowing experiences, participate in research projects, get involved in community service and volunteering, etc. The designation of a "military doctor in training" does not make the process of application and education any easier. In fact, more responsibilities and duties are expected of you as an officer and a future physician.
5. Are there any age restrictions when it comes to becoming a military doctor?
Yes, there are. You must be at least 18 years old to join the military. There will be upper age limits that will depend on the Service you want to join:
- US Army, Army Reserve, or Army National Guard: <42 years old
- Navy and Navy Reserve: <42 years old
- Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard: <47 years old
Keep in mind that you must also be a certain age to be an eligible candidate to the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS). To be considered for either, you must be no older than 36 years old.
6. Are there any special expectations or requirements for applicants who want to become military doctors?
You must pass the physical exam administered by the Military. Your physical and mental health must demonstrate that you can carry out your duties and responsibilities as a physician and an officer. This means that you must be in good physical shape with strong mental, psychological, and moral health.
7. I am currently serving in the army. Can I become a military doctor while I am an active-duty service member?
It is possible. You must receive permission from your Personnel Command to leave your current assignment and apply to medical schools and scholarships. In these circumstances, any pre-existing service obligation for your military education and training will be added to any obligation related to your participation in a medical scholarship program.
8. How can I become a military doctor in Canada?
If you are a civilian medical school applicant, your best option is to apply to the Medical Officer Training Plan (MOTP), a program designed to help medical students and residents of family medicine programs in Canada. You must apply to both your MD program of choice and to the Canadian Armed Forces to be eligible for this program.
If you are already a military officer looking to become a military doctor, you can look into the Military Medical Training Program (MMTP) offered by OttawaU medical school and NOSM.
9. Can I apply to HPSP, USUHS, or MOTP if I am an international student?
You are not eligible for HPSP or USUHS programs if you are not a US citizen. Since you are to become an officer of the US Army, you must be a citizen. In Canada, you must also be a Canadian citizen to become a member of the military.
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