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How to Become a Military Doctor
Becoming a doctor is already a tall order, so becoming one in the military may sound like an even more challenging task. However, if it’s something that sounds like it might be for you, we promise it is more than attainable! So, in this article, let’s dig into all the different ways you could make this dream a reality!
Ways to become a military doctor
There are 4 major pathways that we will discuss about how to become a military doctor.
- Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS)
- Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP)
- Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC)
- Already hold an MD or DO degree
Because there are so many details that can change from person to person in this process, you will find below a very broad explanation about what each of these pathways look like. Our goal here is to help you gain direction in this process. Unfortunately, we can’t provide all the small details that you’ll find come along with this process. So, without further adieu, let’s dig in together to help you better understand what path may be right for you!
Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS)
The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences was created specifically for individuals who wish to serve in medical roles within the United States Military. Individuals do not need to have prior military experience in order to apply to this school.
While attending this school, students serve on active duty and, in addition to traditional medical coursework, will take medical classes directly related to the military. Students wear their uniform to classes and receive pay that coincides with their rank while they are in school. Before the start of classes, individuals attend this prospective branch’s officer training school. For the most part, USUHS functions much like any other medical school.
Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP)
If you’ve done any research into becoming a military doctor, there is no doubt you have heard of the Health Professions Scholarship Program. This is one of the more popular ways that individuals can become military physicians. Through this program, you will attend whatever civilian medical school you are accepted to, just as any of your peers would. However, instead of having to pay tuition, all your expenses will be covered. You should begin applying to this program as you are applying to medical schools.
Once you receive the scholarship and are accepted into either the Army, Air Force, or Navy (we will address the Marines and Space Force later in this article), you will need to complete your officer training for that branch before you begin your studies. You will need to also attend military specific training each year you are in medical school, but this should not interfere with your academic obligations.
Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC)
If you are looking for a way to have all of your undergraduate and medical education paid for, then attending a university with an ROTC program may be your best option! Reserve Officer Training Programs are one of the many ways that individuals can become commissioned officers in the US military.
In order to become a doctor, you will have to complete your undergraduate degree, and then apply to medical school. Each branch will have their own pathway to becoming a doctor, which may include both options that we discussed above. Below is a very brief overview of each branch’s pathways.
Becoming a doctor through Army ROTC is not a guarantee, but it is generally considered the most probable route to become a military doctor. They offer two pathways for medical school after college graduation.
Option 1: Be active duty and apply for an education delay (or attend USUHS)
Option 2: Serve in the Reserves and attend medical school as a civilian
Air Force cadets have similar options to Army cadets. During a cadets senior year, they will be awarded a scholarship through the Health Professions Scholarship Program. Cadets that are not awarded a scholarship can apply for an educational delay and will need to be accepted into a medical school.
Option 1: Receive a scholarship through the HPSP
Option 2: Apply for an educational delay and attend medical school
The Navy is the most restrictive when it comes to who they allow to attend medical school. They offer only one option to become a doctor through ROTC and that is to simply attend medical school right after college graduation. Students will not know till their senior year of college whether they are allowed to attend medical school or not. However, they can rest assured knowing that if they are accepted, it will be an all-expenses paid ticket to becoming a doctor!
What is an educational delay?
Above we mentioned that one of your options for the Army and the Air Force is to apply for an “educational delay.” An educational delay is just what it sounds like: you’ll be asking permission to delay the start of your military service commitment in order to finish your schooling. In this case, you’ll be asking for time to attend medical school. After you graduate as a doctor, you will then commission and begin fulfilling your time as a military doctor. The odds of receiving an educational delay vary by branch. So, be sure you speak with someone about the likelihood of receiving a delay before you ask for one.
Already hold an MD or DO degree
If you already have your medical degree and you wish to join the military, you will need to start by ensuring that you meet the criteria provided by the branch you wish to serve in. Requirements may include age, physical capabilities, ability to pass a background check, not have been dishonorably discharged from another branch, proof of citizenship, and more.
While you may already have all the medical knowledge you need, each branch will require you to attend their branches officer school and any other necessary training.
Okay, let’s talk about service commitments! As you know, you can’t have your medical education paid for and then decide you don’t want to go into the military. If you successfully complete your medical degree, you will be expected to serve in the military. However, the number of years you are required to serve will vary. Understanding your service obligation after school is critical to know before you make any decisions. If you feel at all unclear about this, speak to your recruiter or other individuals who have helped you get to this point.
What if I am enlisted…
While the military does offer some medical jobs to enlisted personnel, many medical jobs which require a degree will only be offered to military officers. In order to become an officer, an individual needs to have completed a higher level of schooling after completing their GED. Those individuals will also attend different training than individuals who enlist. If you are currently enlisted, but wish to become an officer, it’s not uncommon and can very well be accomplished.
What about all of those pesky exams?
Becoming a fully licensed practicing physician in the United States is no small task, and neither is becoming one for the military. As a military doctor you are subject to all the same tests and regulations as other doctors. This means taking every step of the USMLE, taking any special exams for your specialty and maintaining a current license.
What about the Marine Corps and Space Force?
For those of you who may be interested in serving in the Marine Corps or the Space Force, there are a few things you should know. The United States Marine Corps is actually a department of the Navy; this means that the medical personnel that may serve within Marine units are actually trained through the Navy. The same is true for the Space Force, only it is a department of the Air Force. This means that if you would like to serve in either of these capacities, you will need to train under their prospective branches initially.
So, where do you start…
It’s great to have all the information about your different options, but the question you may still be asking is, where do you actually start? If you are currently enrolled at a college, you should begin by seeing if your school has an ROTC program. While you do not have to participate in that program, the officer and enlisted staff who run that program may be able to answer some of your questions and send you in the right direction.
For individuals who have already graduated college, are about to graduate high school, or who do not have an ROTC program at their college, you should speak with a local recruiter. Your local recruiter can be found by visiting the Army, Air Force, or Navy’s website and entering your zip code to find the nearest recruiting office.
Don’t forget to do more research online as well! Before speaking to someone it may be helpful to have a list of more specific questions. A great resource to use is a website called Medicine and the Military!
Frequently asked questions about how to become a military doctor
How long does it take to become a doctor through the military?
Is it faster to become a military doctor?
What branch of the military is best to become a doctor?