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Becoming a military physician: The basics

Considering joining the Armed Forces to pay for medical school or lighten your debt load? Here are answers to some common questions.

When do you join? Students apply to enter the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) just before or during their first year of medical school. Residents in certain specialties can join anytime after their intern year. To join as a practicing physician, you must be finished with residency and fellowship training, board certified and fully licensed to practice.

How much money do you get? Financial awards vary significantly depending on the program, the physician’s specialty and other factors. The military pays 100% tuition for HPSP students; it also provides a monthly stipend of more than $2,000, officers’ pay during breaks, and in some cases, a $20,000 signing bonus.

Physicians in certain in-demand specialties who sign up in residency can receive an annual grant of more than $45,000 plus a monthly stipend of more than $2,000 via the Financial Assistance Program (FAP).

After residency, physicians can receive $40,000 per year for up to three years via the Active Duty Health Professions Loan Repayment Program. The Healthcare Professionals Loan Repayment Program provides physicians in certain specialties with loan repayment of up to $250,000.

How many years of service are you obligated to complete? Generally, students in the HPSP must complete one year of active duty service for each year of support they receive. For instance, if you join before your first year of medical school, you’ll owe the military four years of active duty service after finishing your residency.

Residents in FAP will owe a minimum of two years of active duty service and accrue more years if they spend more time in the program.

Practicing physicians will generally owe two to four years of active duty service depending on the program they enter and the number of years of loan repayment they receive.

Can you choose your own residency? Medical students in HPSP are required to enter the Army’s match for their residencies, which places physicians in residency programs run or sponsored by the military. Those who don’t match into the specialty of their choice can enter a transitional year program and re-enter the match the following year. In rare cases, students can receive special permission to pursue civilian residency programs.

Part time vs. full time: Students and physicians can choose a full- or part-time commitment to the military; those who enter part time join the Army Reserves. Service requirements and financial incentives are vastly different for full- and part-time recruits. Part-time military physicians can keep their civilian jobs while in the Reserves.

Will I be deployed abroad? You won’t be sent overseas during medical school or your residency training. Once you become a board-certified physician, you may be deployed to another country if your specialty is needed there.

Sources: U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, the Army Medical Recruiting Brigade’s public affairs office.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on July 7, 2015. A previous version of this story referred to physicians enlisting in the military. However, practicing physicians join the military as commissioned officers, while the Army uses the term enlisted to refer to personnel who join at lower ranks.

2 comments

  1. i received my d.o. from kcumb in 1974. after i graduated, i made a last minute decision to join the army for the training. They had a remaining internship slot available at triple army medical center. i knew almost nothing about the army but soon found myself driving out to ft. leavenworth to get sworn in. As the army did not pay for any of my education, i would owe them two years payback. i wanted to do an anesthesia residency after internship. My internship year was exhausting and amazing. viet nam collapsed during my year at triple. another classmate of mine also was sent to triple for his internship. our wives enjoyed hawaii while we were on call every third night in the hospital on different rotating services. at the end of my intern year, i was lucky to be selected for anesthesia residency at walter reed army hospital. It was an incredible residency with rotations through george washington university hospital, childrens national medical center, and three months in liverpool england at a pediatric hospital. completing my residency, i became chief of anesthesia at womack army hospital, ft. bragg. fayetteville, n.c. where we stayed for three years before leaving the service for civilian practice. we loved our time in the military. the training was excellent. you get to serve your country and you meet incredible people. i would make this last minute decision again in a heartbeat. elliott klain

  2. sorry about the spelling mistake. it is tripler army medical center. i think that spell check deleted the r. all the best, elliott klain, las vegas nevada

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