how to become an army doctor

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How Becoming a Doctor in the Army Works

Doctors and nurses tend to a wounded American soldier who's just arrived in the trauma ward at the Kandahar Role 3 Hospital in Afghanistan.

Doctors and nurses tend to a wounded American soldier who’s just arrived in the trauma ward at the Kandahar Role 3 Hospital in Afghanistan.JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES

You want to join the Army, serve your country and see the world. You’d also love to become a doctor — after all, the healing professions are just the thing for you. Hey, why not do both?

The Army needs doctors — and offers generous financial assistance to attract them. The American Medical Association estimates the average cost of four years of medical school to be more than $250,000 [source: U,S, Army] and the Army offers aid to pay for the whole package.

The pay for an Army doctor may not be as high as that of a provider in private practice. Basic pay for an Army captain is $44,543 a year [source: U.S. Army], while the median salary of a general practice civilian physician is $119,122 [source: Pay Scale]. But completing a residency in a qualified field can bring a $75,000 bonus [source: U.S. Army]. Promotions, allowances, board certification and re-enlistment bring more money.

Plus, Army doctors often work shorter hours than their civilian colleagues. They enjoy regular vacations and excellent benefits. They have a guaranteed job with generous retirement benefits.

Some aspiring physicians are attracted to the life of an Army doctor. You won’t need to build a practice or manage a business. No worries about malpractice insurance, no dealing with health insurance company bureaucracy. You’ll have opportunities to travel and to enjoy the camaraderie of the service.

But the military lifestyle is not for everyone. The bureaucracy and hierarchy of rank can be a drawback for some. Most Army doctors are deployed overseas at some point (though not necessarily to a war zone), away from their families. And keep in mind that once you enlist, it’s your superior officers who decide where you go and what you do. They will try to honor your preferences, but there are no guarantees.

About 65 percent of Army doctors are reserve officers, serving part-time when not called to active duty [source: Darves]. The rest opt for a full-time military career. Almost all medical specialties are represented. You’ll also find opportunities to do research, to teach, or to work in medical administration.

Read on for some valuable tips for becoming an Army doctor.

Tips for Becoming a Doctor in the Army

Your first step will be to contact an Army recruiter. That person can give you a clear picture of your options.

If you decide to become an Army doctor, you will begin with same medical training as any physician. You’ll attend either a civilian medical school or the special Uniformed Services University, a federal medical school that trains doctors for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Public Health Service. When you complete your education, which may include specialized training in combat medical skills, you’ll enter the military with a captain’s rank. Army doctors do not have to go through basic training. Instead, they attend a six-week Officer Basic Leadership Course, which teaches about military life and the role of a leader [source: U.S. Army].

Keep in mind that the Army requires the same high academic qualifications as any medical school. That means you need a solid grade point average and a good score on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). You’ll also need to have recommendations from professors [source: Darves].

The Army has additional qualifications that don’t apply to civilian medical students. You need to be physically fit and must pass height and weight standards. You’ll have to receive a security clearance [source: Darves].

The financial assistance opportunities are many. Here are some of the ways the Army can help with the cost of your medical education [sources: U.S. Army; USU; Directorate of Medical Education]:

  • The Health Professions Scholarship Program pays all your tuition and fees for four years of medical school and gives you a monthly stipend of more than $2,000. After you graduate, you’ll serve one year in the Army for each year you received the scholarship.
  • The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences is tuition-free. Graduates must complete seven years active duty and six years as a reservist [source: Frager].
  • The Financial Assistance Program is designed for medical school graduates wishing to go for specialized training. On completion, they become active duty officers for at least two years. .
  • The Specialized Training Assistance Program is designed for physicians currently enrolled in residency programs. You receive a monthly stipend of more than $2,000 and become part of the Army Reserves when you finish.

Probably the best tip is: Don’t become an Army doctor just for the money. Financial help with your education is great. But joining the military an important decision that will change the direction of your life. You need to be motivated by more than dollars.

The next section will give you more valuable information about becoming an Army doctor.

How to Become a Military Doctor

If you have your eye on both the military and med school but can’t decide which career to choose—you don’t have to—you can do both! You can serve your country, travel the world, and be a medical professional in the greatest military on the planet. There are two paths to becoming a military doctor, depending on how immersed you want to be in the military while getting your medical degree. To help you choose, we have put this post together to see if becoming a military doctor is right for you.

The Two Paths to Military Medicine

How To Become A Military Doctor

To become a medical doctor in the military, you have two choices: the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) or the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP). Each program has advantages and disadvantages based on your personal preferences. If you attend the USUHS, you will be in the military from the get-go. If you take the HPSP path, you will attend a civilian med school and are commissioned in the U.S. military after graduating.

The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS)

The USUHS is also known as “America’s Medical School.” It was started by Louisiana Congressman F. Edward Hébert as the “West Point for doctors.” It’s located on 100 acres of wooded land on the grounds of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. USUHS is the foremost medical education and research center for the U.S. armed services. If you are accepted to the USUHS, you will be an active-duty service member, and your education will be paid for by the U.S. government. The school accepts both civilian and military applicants for commissioning into the Army, Navy, Air Force, and U.S. Public Health Service. It is important to note that there is a growing interest in the school because there are a lot of enlisted members interested in becoming military doctors.

Since the school was established 40 years ago, it has produced more than 5,000 doctors, 70 dentists, 660 nurses, and 1,300 medical research doctors. All of them have become career military medical officers serving our nation. USUHS has a year-round, four-year program. Their program is 700 hours longer than any other U.S. medical school. Students come from all geographic, socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds.

Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP)

HPSP is the more common choice among the two. The difference between USUHS and HPSP is that in the HPSP program, you get to attend any medical school you choose (you have to get accepted first). Your tuition is paid for by the U.S. Government, and you get a monthly stipend (income)! Medical training is the same as your civilian peers, but as an HPSP recipient, you have to go to a modified form of basic military training. Training usually occurs during your second year of medical school. During your third and fourth clinical years, you get the chance to rotate at military hospitals if you choose.

What’s The Difference Between USUHS and HPSP?

The biggest difference between USUHS and HPSP is your relationship with the military. As a USUHS student, you are an active duty officer and have a bigger commitment to the military while in med school. If you are an HPSP student, you are commissioned as an officer in the Individual Ready Reserve. Either way, you will finish med school in the same amount of time as your civilian counterparts.

There are other areas that differ between the two programs, but they both have the same end-result—med school and a career as a military doctor. Let’s explore the two programs and their differences:

Medical School


You will plunge into the military lifestyle right away. You will wear your military uniform to class, and you will be on active duty through all four years of med school. During your first 18 months of training, your instructors will be both military and civilians. You will take part in classes, labs, and medical field exercises. During your next phase of training, you will experience one year of rotations at military medical facilities. Your final 18 months of rotations will help guide you toward a residency and auditioning for your preferred program. During the last phase, you will have the chance to serve at military treatment facilities worldwide.


As an HPSP scholar, med school is not much different than your civilian peers. You take the same classes, but don’t have to wear your uniform when attending school. You will have to attend officer training and take part in one 45-day training session for each year you get scholarship funds. During training, you can still study for exams for your med school classes, do research, or perform clinical rotations at military treatment facilities. You will wear your uniform during training periods.

Military Training


Before enrollment, you must complete a 2 to 14-week officer orientation program (depending on the military service). During training, you’ll learn about the customs and traditions of military life to help you transition to the military. You attend this training if you have had no prior commissioned officer experience. After training, you’ll go to USUHS to start your medical education.


During your first or second year, you will complete a 2 to 14-week officer orientation program (depending on the military service). During training, you’ll learn about the customs and traditions of military life to help you transition to the military. You attend this training if you have had no prior commissioned officer experience.

Tuition, Pay, and Benefits


Once you are enrolled in the School of Medicine, you will serve on active duty as commissioned officers. Either as a Second Lieutenant in the Army or Air Force, or Ensign in the Navy, or Public Health Service. You pay no tuition or fees, plus you’ll get the full salary and benefits of an O-1 for all four years at the USUHS. Benefits include free medical care for you and your eligible family members, a housing allowance, and 30 days paid leave each year. There’s more—books and lab equipment are also included at no charge. Once you graduate, you will begin your career as an O-3. Your base pay, housing allowance, and food allowance will be around $100,000 (based on the 2020 pay chart).


Once you are accepted for the HPSP, the government will pay your tuition, provide a monthly living stipend ($2,400 per month) and reimburse you for required books, equipment, and supplies. Your stipend will be paid to you through direct deposit twice a month. As you buy needed items for school, keep track so you can submit expense reports. You will spend 45 days each year of med school training with the military. During those periods, you’ll get the same pay and benefits as an active-duty Second Lieutenant in the Army and Air Force or an Ensign in the Navy. You also get a $20,000 signing bonus for joining the Army, Air Force, and Navy.

Military Commitment


Once you graduate, you will have a seven-year active duty service commitment. If you choose the Public Health Service, the commitment is a ten-year active duty obligation.


Since the U.S. military is paying for your med school, it’s only fair you have to pay it back—so to speak. You will pay it back through a 1 to 1 payback in military service. If you completed med school in four years, you are bound to be a military doctor for at least four years. Your pay and benefits after graduation will be the same as the USUHS program.

Application Process

General Requirements

You must be at least 18 years old at the time of enrollment but no older than 36 as of June 30th of your enrollment year. You must be a U.S. citizen and meet the physical, medical, and security requirements for becoming a commissioned officer in the military. If you are already in the military, you must have approval from your military department as part of your application. This also applies if you are in one of the service academies, ROTC, or a member of one of the Reserve Components.

How Do I apply?


  • You must apply through the AMCAS online portal using designation code 821. The USUHS takes part in the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS).
  • Complete the application by filling out the required forms and include the requested material, including a personal statement form and checklists.
  • After receiving completed AMCAS applications, the admissions committee will choose who they will interview.
  • The interview trip involves in-person interviews and a tour of the campus.
  • During the interview, you will rank which services you would like to join if you are accepted.
  • If accepted, you will need to get medically and physically qualified.


Basically, the requirements to get into USUHS are the same as getting an HPSP scholarship. Since scholarships are limited, it may be a little harder to get an HPSP scholarship than getting into USUHS. Admissions numbers for both programs fluctuate year to year depending on government funding.

  • Be eligible to join the military as outlined under the USUHS.
  • Gather all of the required documents (transcripts, letters of recommendation, test scores).
  • Start applying at the same time you apply to medical schools. Each service usually takes only 300 students per year, and the acceptance process usually takes about three months.
  • Get in touch with a recruiter for each service that you want to join. You can apply to just one or to all three — Army, Navy, and Air Force. Check out the recruiter contact info below.
  • Recruiters will schedule an initial interview with you.
  • Fill out an application for each service that you are interested in.
  • You will take a physical examination at a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS).
  • Once you are accepted to an accredited medical degree program, your recruiter will complete your application.
  • A selection board will evaluate your application.
  • If more than one service accepts you, you can choose that one you want to join.

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