Known variously as “America’s Medical School” and the “West Point of medicine”, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine (USU-SOM) is the only federally funded medical school in the US and offers a free medical education in exchange for a seven-year commitment to serve in either the Army, Navy, Air Force. So if you want to become a military doctor, this school is perfect for you!
The school accepts both civilians and active-duty members of the military, but the curriculum has a unique focus on military health and encompasses training in everything from combat medicine to disaster response. This article will detail other standout features of the program and tell you how to get in.
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“The mission of USU is to support the readiness of America’s Warfighter and the health and well-being of the beneficiary community by educating and developing uniformed health professionals, scientists, and leaders; by conducting innovative, military-relevant research; by leading the MHS in key functional and intellectual areas; and by providing operational support to units around the world.”
The USU-SOM was created to fill a need for health care professionals in the military, which means all graduates of the MD program enter active military service upon graduating. So you should only attend this school if you are ready to serve as an active-duty member of the United States Armed Forces for up to seven years. The USU has a Graduate School as well that offers doctorate degrees in various fields that are open to civilian applicants, although preference is given to active-duty members and those working within the federal government.
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Overall Acceptance Rate: 9%
Average MCAT of Incoming Students: 511
Average GPA of Incoming Students: 3.7
Preference for Master’s or PhD: No
The USU-SOM does not have any preferences based on an applicant’s origin or home-state, since it is a federally-funded university. Any applicant to the USU-SOM must have similar attributes as someone entering the US military, such as being a US citizen and between the ages of 18 and 36. Those over 36 must apply for a special waiver to be admitted into the school, as the military also does not enlist applicants over the age of 36.
International students can also apply to the USU-SOM so long as they have a degree from an American or Canadian university and are US citizens. The USU-SOM does not make being an active-duty member a medical school requirement. Neither do you have to have previous military experience, as over 60% of the last admitted class had no military experience, while only 38% did.
As this is a military based school, you must also meet other eligibility requirements, especially if you are accepted into the program. You must pass a background check to be able to receive security clearance along with meeting the physical requirements of being an active-duty service member in the military. Background checks and technical requirements of motor skills, cognitive function and physical ability are common to all medical schools, but the USU-SOM are a bit different.
MCAT and GPA
Minimum GPA to Apply: 3.0
Minimum MCAT to Apply: 496
The USU is not one of those medical schools that don’t require MCAT and all applicants must submit their most recent MCAT score, which can be no older than three years. The school encourages students to retake the MCAT if they want to improve their scores, which will also look favorable on their application if they improve their score. The minimum is 496, but the average applicant’s MCAT score was 505 with matriculants scoring an average score of 511.
The high GPA (3.7) of accepted students is another sign that you should strive to achieve and maintain a high GPA to be a competitive candidate. But you should also know that your application will not be accepted or reviewed if you fail to meet these requirements. The school takes many factors into consideration when determining who to send a secondary application, but your MCAT and GPA will be considered first and determine the rest of your candidacy.
If you do have a low GPA and are wondering how to get into medical school with a low GPA, the school does offer a post-bacc program for qualified students, which includes instruction on how to study for the MCAT, when to start studying for the MCAT and free MCAT prep. However, this program is reserved only for active-duty military members who want to prepare for applying to the USU-SOM and is not open to civilian applicants.
Coursework and Undergrad
All applicants to the USU-SOM must have a bachelor’s degree from a university or college in the US, Canada, or Puerto Rico. International students who are US citizens can apply only if they have completed their bachelor’s degree in North America, or have completed the prerequisites in an American, Canadian or Puerto Rican colleges or universities.
Prerequisites and Recommended Courses
There is a list of medical school prerequisites that all applicants must take to be considered by the Admissions Committee at USU-SOM. The list comprises courses similar to any other medical school, and have an emphasis on upper-level science courses. The school permits community college credits to be applied to the requisites along with courses taken online. Students who have fulfilled the prerequisite requirement overseas are recommended to take upper-level science courses in the US or Canada to bolster their application by demonstrating they are able to handle the intellectual demands of the program.
The list of prerequisites includes:
- One year of biology w/lab work
- One year of chemistry (general or inorganic) w/lab work
- One year of physics w/lab work
- One year of organic chemistry or
- Half a year or organic chemistry and half a year of biochemistry w/lab work
- One year of English, social-science, psychology, humanities or anything writing-intensive
- One calculus or statistics semester
AMCAS Work and Activities
Despite being a medical school associated with the military and federal government, the USU-SOM still uses the American Medical Association’s online application portal – AMCAS – to accept and review all medical school applications. Students must register with AMCAS and provide a set of different application materials including:
- Official and unofficial transcripts
- Letters of recommendation
- MCAT scores
- Personal statement
If you are interested in applying to the combined MD/PhD program, you must fill out the separate application for the PhD program, and submit it along with your AMCAS application. Along with submitting the necessary documents and writing your AMCAS personal statement, you will also be asked to complete the AMCAS Work and Activities and AMCAS Most Meaningful Experiences.
As with all medical schools, the USU-SOM requires all applicants to submit a medical school personal statement, which is an opportunity for them to expound on the question of “why do you want to be a doctor?” The personal statement can address your motivations for becoming a doctor and what steps you have taken to prepare for both medical school and a career in medicine.
The USU-SOM uses a two-step application process like every other medical school no matter if it is DO vs. MD. All applicants must complete a secondary application, which requires answering specific medical school secondary essay prompts, which are based on the school’s particular mission and values. The USU-SOM publishes these prompts online so students can prepare their answer by reading medical school secondary essays examples.
- Medicine and Officership are time-honored professions that unite at “America’s Medical School” in rewarding and challenging ways. What are your thoughts and impressions about serving as a uniformed medical corps officer, and why do you want to pursue this career path? (1500 Character Limit)
- The Uniformed Services University features a unique curriculum that prepares students to care for those in harm’s way. Please describe what in your research about our school and its values attracts you to our institution’s mission and approach. (1500 Character Limit)
- Our Admissions Committee assembles classes of students with a wide range of backgrounds, skills, experiences, and talents. Please describe how a special quality or experience of yours has informed your ability to participate well in a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment. (1500 character limit)
Sample Answer for Question #2
I think this country has always had a reverence for those who serve, in any capacity, the greater good of defending and maintaining the Republic, but, unfortunately, it has been slow to translate those sentiments into action. It took decades for even the idea of a federally-funded, military-specific medical school to be raised and discussed let alone brought into fruition, when, in my opinion, it should’ve been a given that the military should train its own corps of medical officers.
It was only through the efforts of the school’s namesake, Congressman F. Edward Hebert, that action was taken and he is an inspiration I hope to follow, in terms of fighting tirelessly for the welfare and well-being of all military members, active-duty or veterans. But that is what attracts me most to the USU-SOM; the two roles I would have to fulfill as a doctor and an officer. I feel that is a challenge that no other medical school can offer.
But the challenge is worth the reward, which would be being able to help and support all military personnel as one of them, and not as a civilian doctor. I think that camaraderie between people who serve in the military provides extra comfort, however intangible, and that is something I would only be able to do at this medical school. The “Warfighter”, after all, is an integral part of the school’s mission and I hope that my education and service in the military will bring me the satisfaction of being able to serve my fellow servicemen and women but my country as well.
Despite the fact that the USU-SOM is a military-based school, the school has many of the same medical school recommendation letters requirements as civilian schools, but with a few exceptions. The school prefers that applicants obtain and submit a letter from their undergraduate school’s pre-health committee or a collection of letters from their university’s writing center. It also recommends that students submit at least one letter from a “clinical” source, which can be any health care professional (doctor, nurse, nurse practitioner, physician assistant) who has observed you in a clinical environment for up to 300 hours, at a minimum.
Sidenote: the 300 hours are not how many shadowing hours for medical school you should have, but it is the minimum that the school strongly recommends you acquire for your own benefit. If you are unable to submit a letter from a clinical source, you must submit a letter explaining why. If you are unable to acquire any clinical experience, you must also submit a letter explaining why. Additionally, if you are unable to secure a letter from any of the above sources, you may submit a minimum and maximum of three letters, all from the following academic sources:
- Two letters from science faculty members
- One letter from a non-science faculty member
All these letters must be from previous instructors, not someone whom you randomly select. The Admissions Committee also expressly forbids any letters from friends, family members, and employers (current or former). This can be a problem for people who have been out of school for a long time and are non-traditional medical school applicants, but the school is firm on its policy that all letters come from academic sources who are your previous instructors.
Again, if you are unable to provide any of the academic letters, for whatever reason, you must submit a letter explaining why or why not, but the Admissions Committee will not accept being “out of school for a while”, as a suitable explanation.
Want to become a military doctor?
Recommendation Letters for Active-Duty Members
Active and veteran military members must submit a letter of recommendation requirement from a superior officer, current or previous. Military members must also obtain letters of approval or release from their respective branch of service and submit them along with their application, either primary or secondary, but preferably as soon as possible. They can submit an application without either a letter of approval or release, but they must be submitted before a successful applicant matriculates.
All applicants who reach the interview stage after submitting their primary and secondary application will be interviewed by two members of the Admissions Committee consisting of a faculty member and a current medical student. The interview is made up of two, 30-minute interviews held virtually, but there are things you must do before your interview, which are unique to the USU-SOM.
Applicants are notified of their interview status by the school via email and you must learn how to schedule medical school interviews since you must then contact the Office of Recruitment and Admissions to setup an appropriate date and time. When you receive your interview invitation, you will also receive a form to rank your preferred service branch (Army, Navy, Air Force, Public Health Service).
Two other requirements you must fulfill before your interview day are the physical examination requirement that you must also organize and arrange and the background check. You must also submit a SF-86 form to complete the background check, which will review your entire history to ensure you do not pose a risk to national security and is a typical requirement of anyone entering the armed forces.
Sample Interview Questions
- “When is a time you went against a direct authority?”
- “Tell me about a person you think is a good leader. What qualities do you think make him a good leader?”
- “What kind of book am I writing?”
- “What's your favorite microbe?”
Sample Answer #2
Neil Armstrong. I read that he was chosen specifically to be the first on the moon because he “did not have a large ego”. That made me smile. It made me think of that adage about how the people who seek power are precisely those who should not have it. Armstrong didn’t ask or lobby to be first. It was chosen for him based on his innate character and he embodied that humility throughout the rest of his life. Even after the moon landing, instead of capitalizing on his great fame, he shunned publicity and became a small-town college professor acting as a mentor and passing on knowledge rather than being the center of attention. I think that is what a good leader should be; have no ego and think about the next generation.
Acceptance and Waitlist Information
After completing the interview, applicants' full application package, including a review of their interview, is sent to the Admissions Committee for a final decision. The school uses a rolling admissions policy, but it begins sending out offers on the official date given by AMCAS for schools who do not participate in early decision programs, October 15th.
Students who are accepted are offered a conditional acceptance only, until their physical examination and security clearance are approved. The USU-SOM does have a medical school waitlist, although it does not counsel applicants on how to get off the waitlist. Waitlisted students will be offered a position in the upcoming class if one does become available.
The school also encourages rejected students to reapply. Close to 25 matriculants from the latest class are re-applicants and the school suggests students improve their GPA by taking any one of the best post-bacc programs for medical school, such as the one it offers to active-duty members, or retaking the MCAT.
Primary AMCAS Application Deadline: November 1st
Primary Deadline for MD/PhD Program: December 1st
Secondary Application Deadline: 21 days after email notification
Since the school uses a rolling admissions policy, it suggests all students apply as early as possible, preferably on or shortly after the application window opens on June 1st of the year prior to your matriculation.
Tuition and Debt
The MD Program at USU-SOM and all its other academic offerings and degree programs are tuition-free. All matriculants enter the medical school as commissioned officers in the United States military, which means they earn a yearly salary of $41,727.60 along with full medical and dental coverage for them and their dependents.
However, as it is a military medical school, all applicants agree to a service commitment of seven years in their preferred branch of the military – Air Force, Army, Navy. Students can opt for service in the Office of Public Health as well, but that carries with it a service commitment of eight years.
Students do not incur any medical school debt and all additional costs, such as books, learning materials, and living expenses (housing, transportation, health insurance) are covered by the military. As the program is tuition-free and you are paid an officer’s salary, there is no need to apply for federal student loans or medical school scholarships, since all your costs are covered for the duration of your time in medical school.
Residency Match Rates
The USU-SOM does not participate in the civilian ERAS or NRMP Match Day, since it has its own extensive network of hospitals, treatment and research centers, primary care clinics and other training sites for graduates to further their medical education. Based on the school’s own statistics, this system matches graduates with their preferred residency 90% of the time.
Students are matched into their preferred program and residency based on their branch of service and what the military calls “service needs”. Army graduates go into Army residencies offered at Army institutions, and the same applies to every other branch, but there are also civilian hospitals and universities where graduates can learn.
The fact that graduates do not have to apply for their residencies and have a residency placement waiting for them is yet one more draw of the USU-SOM. Another benefit of the graduate medical program at USU-SOM is that if students are not matched into a military program, they can be matched into a civilian one, so everyone is guaranteed a residency upon graduation.
Review of Available Programs
1. Four-Year MD Program
Before beginning classes, all new students must first complete the requisite officer training program associated with their branch of service. This course runs between 4-5 weeks depending on the branch, and it is here where new students without any prior military experience learn the basics of military command, etiquette and the responsibilities of an officer (active-duty or veterans do not attend officer training school).
The USU-SOM curriculum, known as Molecules to Military Medicine, is distinct from other medical school curricula because it features so much more instruction and specialization than a civilian program. In fact, the curriculum at USU-SOM is 700 hours longer than any other medical school, since it packs in so many other aspects of medicine that are directly tied to the military.
The military’s ubiquity means it operates in several venues and theaters so all military physician’s must be prepared to serve and treat patients in any circumstance and setting. This means that students learn about combat medicine, tropical medicine, and disaster response as part of their regular studies, rather than being a separate track as it would be at a civilian school.
The Molecules to Military Medicine program does copy the dividing of medical school education into blocks from civilian schools, as students pass through three distinct phases toward graduation: pre-clerkship, clerkship, and post-clerkship. Students are introduced to the fundamentals of medical science through an organ-based approach, while clinical experiences begin the first week of classes.
However, clerkship is confined to one year only, as students enter clinical rotations in the second year of medical school. Rotations make up the bulk of a student’s time at USU-SOM, as they must complete three 15-week blocks of core and elective rotations, along with required internships and participation in three practicums based around combat medicine and disaster response.
The rotations are taken in the typical areas of medicine, such as:
- Family Medicine
- Gynecologic Surgery & Obstetrics
- Medicine and Surgery
Afterward, the post-clerkship phase is where students can learn how to choose a medical specialty, as they complete their final rotations, which consist of twelve 4-week blocks spanning specialties and sub-specialties such as: emergency medicine, anesthesia, and neurology. Students also spend one of these 4-week blocks preparing for the USMLE Step 1 exam and also participating in a live battlefield simulation associated with the Military Contingency Medicine course.
2. MD/PhD Physician Scientist
The only combined degree program offered at USU-SOM is the MD/PhD degree that takes between 7-8 years. Students must apply to each program separately but the two degrees are integrated so students receive instruction in three separate blocks, which places the graduate portion in the middle, with the four years of medical school at either end. The first 18 months of the degree consists of the pre-clerkship years followed by entry into the graduate program.
The combined degree program is the only one where students begin as civilians but finish the degree as commissioned officers. After completing the necessary exams to progress to the dissertation stage, students will create a thesis proposal in collaboration with their advisor along with being commissioned as an officer and attend officer school. Once they have received their commission students enter the final clerkship and post-clerkship years to complete their medical training.
Students will be awarded the PhD once they successfully present and defend their thesis, after which they will re-enter medical school to complete their required clerkships and board examinations to graduate from the MD program. Students can choose from four different specializations within the graduate school to pursue their PhD. Along with their medical degree, students in the PhD program can earn a doctorate in Emerging Infections Diseases, Molecular and Cell Biology, Neuroscience, or Public Health.
3. Enlisted to Medical Degree Preparatory Program (EMDP2)
This program is offered in collaboration with George Mason University and is aimed at active-duty members of the military who have designs on either the USU-SOM or any accredited civilian medical school. Applicants must have a minimum GPA of 3.0 and have achieved at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited US university to qualify.
The program helps prepare students to become competitive candidates for any medical school by giving them instruction on how to study for the MCAT along with assigning them individual pre-med advisors. This portion of the program is done at George Mason, while the clinical aspects of the degree take place at several sites affiliated with the USU-SOM such as Walter Reed National Medical Center and Andrews Air Force Base.
Campus and Faculty
The medical school originally consisted of the third-floor of an office building in Bethesda, whereas now it occupies almost 100 acres on the grounds of the Bethesda Naval Base located only three miles outside of Washington, DC. The school’s lab, classrooms, and lecture halls are all located within the buildings of the Naval Base, but there are close to thirty different research centers both in and around the main campus, as it is located right across from the National Institutes of Health.
There is also a full-service medical clinic on campus. The University Family Health Center provides basic medical services and treatments for all students, residents and their families, as well as faculty, administration and support staff. There is housing available on base for some students, but students who are unable to find housing on the base are provided with a medical school housing stipend to find accommodation in Washington or the surrounding Maryland suburbs.
Affiliated Teaching Hospitals
- Beaumont Army Medical Center
- Bremerton Naval Hospital
- Eglin AFB Hospital
- Fort Belvoir Community Hospital
- Fort Benning Martin Army Community Hospital
- Fort Bragg Womack Army Medical Center
- Fort Gordon Eisenhower Army Medical Center
- Fort Hood Darnall Army Medical Center
- Howard County General Hospital
- Inova Fairfax Hospital
- Keesler Medical Center
- Madigan Army Medical Center
- MedStar Union Memorial Hospital
- Nellis AFB O'Callaghan Military Medical Center
- Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute
- Center For Biotechnology
- Center For Deployment Psychology
- Center For Global Health Engagement
- Center For Health Professions Education
- Center For Health Services Research
- Center For Military Precision Health
- Center For Neuroscience & Regenerative Medicine
- Center For Prostate Disease Research
- Center For Rehabilitation Sciences Research
- Center For the Study of Traumatic Stress
- Consortium For Health and Military Performance
- Defense & Veterans Center for Integrative Pain Management
- Infectious Disease Clinical Research Program
- National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health
- Surgical Critical Care Initiative
- Tri-service Center for Oral Health Studies
- DoD Medical Ethics Center
- Murtha Cancer Center Research Program
- Triservice Nursing Research Program
Nylund, Cade M., MD, MS, Colonel, Air Force, Vice Chair for Research, Department of Pediatrics
Goolsby, Craig, MD, MEd, FACEP
Full Professor, Military and Emergency Medicine, School of Medicine
Grunberg, Neil, MA, MPhil, PhD
Full Professor, Military and Emergency Medicine, School of Medicine
Hisle-Gorman, Elizabeth, MSW, PhD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics
Director, Military Family Research Division
Schoomaker, Eric, MD, PhD
Professor Emeritus, Military and Emergency Medicine, School of Medicine
Goodie, Jeffery L., PhD., Abpp, Captain, Deputy Director of Research, Dept. Family Medicine
Jerse, Ann E., PhD, Professor, Microbiology and Immunology
Uniformed Services University of The Health Sciences F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine
4301 Jones Bridge Rd
Bethesda, md 20814
1. What is the mission of the USU-SOM?
The mission of the USU-COM is to build up the medical capabilities of the US military in times of peace and conflict. The school was started for that exact purpose and it maintains that mission as all entrants into the MD program are commissioned as officers in one of three branches of the armed forces and must serve in several deployments throughout the world for seven years in exchange for a free medical school education. But the school also works in several important areas of scientific and medical research that are relevant to both civilian and military populations.
2. Do I need to take the MCAT and submit my scores?
The USU-SOM requires all applicants to submit their most recent MCAT scores, but it has a lower threshold than most medical schools, as it accepts a score of 496, in contrast to the unofficial standard for most medical schools of an even 500.
3. What is the minimum GPA requirement?
The school has a suggested minimum but does not have an official stated GPA cut-off that all applicants must meet. Students can apply with a 3.0 GPA, but are encouraged to score as high as possible to make themselves more competitive.
4. What kind of degree do I need to get into USU-SOM?
The school requires all applicants to have a full bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited college or university in the US, Canada or Puerto Rico to be considered.
5. Are there prerequisite courses I have to take?
Students must have competency in the following subjects - chemistry, physics, biology, biochemistry, English, calculus and statistics. The school recommends at least one year in each.
6. How can I apply to USU-SOM
Despite being a military medical school, the USU-SOM does participate in the AMCAS online application service, as it does accept civilian applicants. All applicants, civilian and military, must apply via AMCAS, and then wait for a supplemental application from the school.
7. How much does one year at USU-SOM cost?
The USU-SOM is perhaps the only medical school that pays you to attend, as the MD program and all other degree programs are completely free, with the bonus of being paid a regular salary as a commissioned officer in the US military.
8. Is it hard to get into USU-SOM?
The USU-SOM is not hard to get into, in fact, it is one of the easiest medical schools to get into, since it has a lower MCAT threshold than other schools and broad set of prerequisites. The school has a higher-than-normal acceptance rate but it also makes students meet military standards for acceptance (minimum number of push-ups, pull-ups, physical examination) so you should be in good shape and not have any serious, chronic medical conditions to apply.
To your success,
Your friends at BeMo
BeMo Academic Consulting
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