By Tim Durso, 2D LT, USAF
I get a lot of questions about what exactly it means to be a medical student on military scholarship. There are plenty of official resources that you can find (just google Health Professions Scholarship Program), but I thought it might be a good idea to give a brief overview as a student currently in the process.
First of all, you might be wondering when and how to start the application process. I started early in my second semester of senior year of college by contacting a recruiter directly. This allowed me to gather the necessary paperwork and schedule training before medical school started. If I’ve learned anything from being a government employee so far, it never hurts to get a head start on a paperwork process. That’s not to say you can’t start later, or even after you’ve started medical school, because you definitely can. Remember, though, that a four-year HPSP scholarship carries with it a signing bonus that a shorter scholarship wouldn’t.
If you’re thinking about contacting a recruiter but don’t know what to expect, here’s a quick run-down of what you’re getting yourself into. The nuts and bolts: The military (in my case, the Air Force) pays for tuition, required books, and testing fees. In addition to the signing bonus for a four-year scholarship mentioned earlier, I receive a monthly stipend for living expenses. In return, after my residency, I will serve in the Air Force as a physician for four years of active duty and four years of reserve duty (with a whole bunch of caveats which are beyond the scope of a blog post).
While in medical school, I am required to go on four “active duty tours.” In my case, the first tour was Commissioned Officer Training, a month-long character-building exercise in Alabama in the middle of summer. As it turns out, you can sweat for 24 hours straight. Who knew? For those of you wondering what training is like for officers, forget about what you’ve seen in the movies. Mental fortitude is equally if not more important than physical fitness for an officer in the military. You will be sleep deprived and forced to take on a lot of responsibility in the form of jobs assigned to you at the beginning of the month while occasionally being yelled at for doing something wrong (or really just not perfectly). To be honest, it’s a lot like certain 3rd year rotations (*cough* surgery *cough*). In the end, though, you come out more capable to take on the stresses of leadership.
My other tour thus far was called a “campus tour,” which meant I was paid an active duty salary for doing research at my school. Not bad, if you ask me. The last two tours are reserved for the beginning of 4th year, when I will travel to the military residencies of my interest for essentially an away rotation with an interview tacked on the end.
What about residency, you might be wondering. Do I have to do a military residency? The answer is a definite maybe. Let me explain. Each branch of the military releases a list every year of residency slots for each specialty. If the military wants 30 internists, but can only train 20 themselves, then 10 students will go on to train at civilian institutions through the regular match. The details of how this works are too complicated to cover here, but suffice it to say, if you’re not ok doing a military residency, why are you joining the military in the first place?
I hope I answered some of the common questions I seem to get. Is your question about this process still burning a hole in your soon-to-be-stuffed-with-more knowledge-than-you-ever-thought-possible brain? If so, comment below, and I’ll do my best to answer.