How to Become a Military Doctor

April 25, 2024
Contents

”Luke

Reviewed by:

Luke Hartstein

Former Admissions Committee Member, NYU Grossman School of Medicine

Reviewed: 4/25/24

Are you interested in serving your country and joining the military? Are you also interested in becoming a doctor? Well, you can do both! This guide will outline how to become a military doctor.

When you think of being a doctor, the most common image conjured up is a white coat, tongue depressors, and sterile rooms. However, not all doctors work in these environments. 

Military doctors, known more technically as military officers or combat medics, are more used to green uniforms, high-pressure, life-threatening situations, and active battlefields. 

Pursuing military medicine undoubtedly has high risks but has even higher rewards. Military doctors not only serve and protect their country but heal and treat all the other brave individuals who put their lives on the line to keep everyone at home safe. 

So, if you would like to pursue a fulfilling career as a military doctor, this article will tell you where to begin. We will be discussing  how army medical school admissions work, and what a military career really looks like.

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How to Become a Military Doctor: USUHS vs HPSP

So, you’re interested in medicine and want to serve your country, but how do you become a doctor in the military? While you may simply complete your M.D. and enlist in the army to become a military doctor, there are two other popular routes to consider:

USUHS

One option is The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS), known as "America’s medical school for uniformed physicians”

Dedicated solely to preparing and educating aspiring military doctors, this university differs from other medical schools by providing a military-specific comprehensive curriculum. In this program, students are actively enlisted in the military, are provided medical military training, and attend lectures and labs to complete their M.D. 

This program offers students the following benefits:

  • Free tuition: Students are not required to pay tuition or book and equipment fees.
  • Free medical and dental care: All students and their family members (dependants) are given free medical care.
  • A base pay/salary: The program provides students with an annual salary based on their years of service. 
  • Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH): Provided to all members that reside off base and is determined by if the student has dependants, years of service, and rent or mortgage payments.
  • Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS): As students actively enlist during their studies, they receive an annual amount of salary just like other officers

Here is a breakdown of the annual gross pay as of January 2022 that a student with no prior service experience can expect to make:

Military doctor pay
Source: Uniformed Services University

It is important to note that while USUHS offers free tuition, it is only in exchange for a seven-year active duty service commitment. So, if you choose this route, know it is a long-term commitment! 

HPSP

The Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) is a medical school scholarship available for students that wish to join the armed forces and become military doctors. The HPSP offers two-, three-, and four-year scholarships that help cover tuition costs and textbook and equipment fees.

With this option, you are able to attend any medical school of your choice within the United States, Canada, or Puerto Rico. As there are so many different medical schools, it is important you learn how to choose a medical school that fits your interests. 

This scholarship offers the following benefits:

 It is important to note that the HPSP scholarship only covers tuition costs in exchange for duty. Students must serve two-years of active duty, or however many years the scholarship is used for, whichever is greater – a shorter commitment than if you were to attend USUHS. 

 However, this scholarship does not provide the extensive medical military training that USUHS does, which is a factor you should consider when making your choice!

Army Medical School Admissions Requirements and Process

While each medical school has different admission requirements, in general, to get into either USUHS or obtain an HPSP scholarship, the following are required:

  • Age: There is a maximum age for applicants wishing to join the military as combat medics. You can find a list of these ages below.
  • Physical aptitude: As you are not only going to become a military doctor but also a military officer, you must be healthy enough to keep up with the rigorous physical demands of the job. 
  • Security: Applicants must pass a security investigation and demonstrate they have high moral standards.
  • A Bachelor’s Degree: In order to apply for any medical school, you must first complete a Bachelor’s Degree. 
  • Prerequisites: To be considered for admission, certain prerequisite courses are required.
  • Tests: While there are some schools that do not require an MCAT score, many do, including USUHS. The HPSP scholarship also requires applicants to write the MCAT. 
  • Supplemental applications: Many medical schools require supplemental applications to provide a more in-depth view of their applicants.
  • Letter of recommendation: These letters offer the admissions committees a chance to see how others perceive you.

Maximum Age of Armed Forces Applicants:

Age requirement for admissions

Notably, while the armed forces lists these ages as maximums, the right candidates can be approved for waivers in order to enlist! So, if you’re an older candidate don’t be discouraged, you may still be able to fulfill your dream of becoming a military doctor!

How to Apply to USUHS: Step-By-Step

If you’re wondering how to become a military doctor, joining USUHS is a great option! It has been one of America’s best military medical schools for over 50 years. The application process can be a little overwhelming, so here is a step-by-step outline of USUHS’ medical school requirements.

Step One: Baccalaureate Degree, GPA, and Relevant Experience

Before you even consider applying to medical school, you must obtain an undergraduate degree, maintain a high GPA, and gain relevant experience.

Baccalaureate Degree

In order to apply for USUHS’ M.D. program, you need to have completed a Bachelor’s degree as of June 1st of the year prior to your planned attendance. This Bachelor’s must come from an accredited university in either the United States, Canada, or Puerto Rico. 

While USUHS does not have a preference of what subject you focus on in your degree, they require a lot of science-focused course prerequisites including one academic year of:

  • Organic chemistry including laboratory
  • General or inorganic chemistry, including laboratory
  • Calculus or statistics
  • General physics, including laboratory
  • Biology, including laboratory
  • English, foreign language, writing-intensive humanities, social science, or psychology courses

GPA

While taking all of the listed prerequisites, you must also maintain a high GPA. The USUHS requires a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0. However, the current competitive GPA is a 3.7.

Relevant Experience

As an undergraduate student, you should take advantage of the various clubs, experiences, and volunteer opportunities you have at hand. You should focus specifically on getting some clinical experience, as part of you will be required to provide a clinical letter of recommendation!

Step Two: Write and Ace your MCAT

While you can complete your Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) at any time during or after your undergraduate degree, USUHS requires that prospective students take their MCAT three years prior to the year of desired attendance. As USUHS’s admission requirements for the MCAT are at minimum a 496 and competitively a 511, it is important you ace this test!

In order to do well, it is essential you learn exactly what the MCAT is and how to study for it.

Step Three: Apply!

Applicants must complete an application online through the online American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS). Applications begin June 1st and close on November 1st of the year prior to the one of attendance. Between this time, applicants must submit the required documentation:

Official Transcripts From an Accredited University

You must upload official transcripts from your university to the portal. 

Supplemental Application

This application consists of the following three essay questions that must be no longer than 1500 characters each that revolve around why you want to pursue a military medical career, what your values are, and why you want to go to USUHS in particular.

Ensure you answer these essays honestly and let your personality shine through! You want these essays to stand out and showcase your genuine, extraordinary self. 

Letters of Recommendation

You will need to submit the following types of letters of recommendation at minimum:

  • A premedical committee letter (if available)
  • A clinical letter of recommendation 
  • Two academic science letters of recommendation
  • One academic non-science letter of recommendation

If you are unable to provide a clinical letter of recommendation, you must include an explanation of why. 

Step Four: Wait, Prepare for an Interview or Prepare to Reapply

Arguably, the hardest part of the admissions process is waiting! After the admissions committee has looked at the applications, they will invite 600 applicants to complete two 30-minute interviews. 

Before these interviews, applicants will have to pick the service they would like to join (army, navy, air force, public health), complete a physical examination, and undergo a security investigation. Chosen applicants will be given a conditional acceptance.

If you aren’t chosen, try not to be discouraged! Medical schools are highly selective, and you should be proud of yourself for making it far enough to even apply! Plus, after having gone through the process once, you can see where to improve and reapply!

How to Apply to HPSP (Scholarship) 

Depending on the school, there are various medical school scholarships available for prospective students. 

If you would rather go to a medical school of your choosing than USUHS, getting the HPSP is a worthy option to consider if you are interested in how to become a military doctor for free! In order to be eligible for the HPSP, applicants must meet the following criteria:

  • Must be no older than 36 years old, although applicants may obtain waivers
  • Must complete a Bachelor’s degree with the following prerequisite courses:
  1. One academic year of general or inorganic chemistry with lab\One academic year of physics with lab
  2. One academic year of organic chemistry with lab or one semester of organic chemistry with lab and one semester of biochemistry
  3. One academic year of biology with lab
  4. One academic year of writing-intensive humanities, languages, social sciences or psychology
  5. One semester of calculus or statistics
  • Have a minimum GPA of 3.2 (3.6 is competitive)
  • Have a minimum MCAT score of 500 (506-509 is competitive)
  • Submit letters of recommendation along with their application

In order to apply for the HPSP and learn more about how to be a military doctor, students must contact a recruiter in their specific service of interest. This recruiter will help them complete and submit an application, set up a preliminary interview, and set up a physical examination appointment. 

While HPSP does not disclose their exact acceptance rate, each year only about 300 students are accepted per service, making this scholarship quite competitive.

If there is a specific medical school you want to attend, this military med school scholarship is definitely the right choice for you. It lets you attend any medical school you want without paying a penny for it!

What is a Medical Career in the Military Like?

Fulfilling, Rewarding, but Difficult. 

Being a medical doctor is a noble career; you support and treat the troops serving the nation and provide life-saving humanitarian assistance to citizens during disasters. 

However, military doctors often work in high-pressure, dangerous situations. As trained officers, they are on the battlefield or in field hospitals with their fellow service members to evacuate or treat soldiers in areas of active combat. Unlike regular doctors, military doctors must be willing to risk their own lives to save others. 

If you’re considering a career in military medicine, you should also love traveling. Military doctors can expect deployment anywhere they are needed.

How to Become a Military Doctor: FAQs 

If you still have questions about how to become a military doctor, read on to find your answers. 

1. How Many Years to Become a Military Doctor?

It can take as little as 8 to as many as 14 years to become a military doctor. Becoming a military doctor includes a 3- or 4-year Bachelor’s degree, a 4-year M.D., and a 1-6-year residency depending on your specialty.  

2. How to Become a Military Surgeon?

To become a military surgeon, you must complete a surgical residency once you have completed your M.D. The armed forces also provide higher education training programs to help students gain experience in military surgery. 

3. What is the Acceptance Rate for USUHS?

For USUHS’ class of 2025, there was a 10% acceptance rate.

4. Do Military Medical Students Wear Their Uniforms to Class?

Yes, for USUHS, all students are required to wear their military uniforms. For other medical schools, they are not, as they are not enlisted officers yet. 

5. When Does the Service Commitment Start? 

It starts once you have completed your residency. So, the years you spend in military medical school or regular medical school do NOT count towards your commitment. 

6. Does USUHS Accept Students Without Prior Military Experience?

Yes! Around 60% of all accepted students have no prior military service.

Final Thoughts

While the process of becoming a military doctor is extensive, and challenging, the tasks required of military doctors are even more demanding.

It is a job that requires dedication, flexibility, and the ability to work under extreme pressure. It is also mentally and physically demanding, as you will often be working on troops with serious, even fatal, injuries. 

However, if you can keep up with these demands, you can lead a very fulfilling career in military medicine.

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