A U.S. soldier takes part in a 2008 joint medevac field training exercise with South Korean soldiers in Yangju, South Korea.

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How to Get Army Scholarships for Medical School

Deciding to attend medical school is a serious decision and commitment. Not only are you hoping to help heal humanity, but you're also looking at a minimum of four years of college, four years of medical school, three years of working in a hospital -- and high tuition fees to boot.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the average medical school tuition in 2010-11 was around $29,000 at a public medical school, and $47,000 at a private one. This fee doesn't include books or lab or living fees, which can add an additional $20,000 to one's annual costs.

To put it plain and simple, the cost of medical school can be daunting, despite a guaranteed starting salary of $119,000 for a general practice physician (earnings are higher for doctors with specialty degrees, such as internal medicine or neurology).

It's not surprising then, that many students seek out ways to buffer this burden. The most common options are student loans and academic scholarships. One of the most generous scholarships available is the F. Edward Hebert Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP), which is the official name for an Army medical scholarship [source: U.S. Army].

On the following pages, we'll discuss the pros, the cons and the obligations of earning an Army scholarship.

Army Scholarship Requirements for Medical School

Through this academic scholarship, students can earn a full ride to any accredited medical, dental, veterinary, psychology or optometry program. They'll also receive a monthly stipend of about $2,000, which increases by approximately 3 percent every year for a cost-of-living adjustment. The U.S. Army Health Care Team will also pay for books, equipment and other associated academic fees. In addition, students receive a $20,000 sign-on bonus that can be used to pay pre-existing student loans, buy a new car or save for a rainy day -- it's the student's call.

So what do you need to apply? The requirements are fairly straightforward, and the good news is that the acceptance rate is 90 percent or higher if you meet the requirements. To qualify, you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen with a bachelor's degree
  • Be accepted into, or applying for, an accredited graduate program in the U.S. or Puerto Rico (the scholarship can only be claimed once enrolled)
  • Remain a full-time student throughout the program's duration
  • Qualify as an officer in the United States Army Reserve

What are the pros and cons of these scholarships?

Pros
  • Little or no debt after medical school
  • Military internship and residency salaries are higher than those for civilians
  • Unique opportunities available, such as working with special forces soldiers
  • Benefits for you and your family
  • The honor of serving your country
Cons
  • Medical school graduates must apply for a military internship/residency, though deferment is possible
  • Students owe their military obligation time after their residency
  • While most major military hospitals are very reputable, the smaller ones can be less so scholarship recipients' first duty is to the military
  • Moving frequently (every 2 years) is common when fulfilling the active-duty obligation

Of course, Army scholarships come with obligations. We'll discuss those on the next page.

Know Your Obligations

Yes, military obligations go hand-in-hand with accepting an HPSP scholarship. The first begins the summer after the first year of medical school. During this time, students head to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, to shadow doctors and get a glimpse of their future careers. They receive officer's pay as a second lieutenant throughout this training, and the time served is part of the active duty training. If students can't attend these sessions during the summer, they can attend the program after graduation. Also after graduation, these same students will either begin active duty obligation and advance to the rank of captain, or begin their residency.

Then there's the active-duty service obligation: one year of military service for every year of scholarship. Most doctors fulfill these obligations immediately after completing their residency.

There's also four years of inactive duty, something SFC Jeffrey Cole calls a "paper duty obligation." Finally, there can be an additional obligation for residency and fellowship training, however these details are complicated and vary depending on a number of details.

After the vast amount of time and focus necessary for graduating from medical school, it's no surprise that many students want a top-notch residency program.

How do military programs compare to civilian ones? For the first four years of medical school, students will attend the same programs as other students. This means they can attend any medical school of their choice, as long as it's accredited. Once these students enter their residency program, things get a bit more complicated.

Generally speaking, about 86 percent of students who graduate with an HPSP scholarship are placed in a military residency. More than 90 percent of these get one of their first three choices of location and 100 percent of applicants are placed in their specialty. At the end of the day, however, the needs of the Army trump all, and the opportunity to gain a deferment from Army medical residency isn't always granted even if requested.

Still, major military hospitals provide great training and physicians. While military residencies endeavor to have state-of-the-art equipment on hand, budget limitations can prevent this from occurring, particularly in smaller facilities.

After graduation, these doctors will join the world's largest health care system -- the Army health care team, comprised of the dental, medical service, medical specialist, nurse and veterinary corps (plus the enlisted technicians and civilian employees).

If earning an Army scholarship to pay for medical school is something you're interested in, read the links and resources on the next page.

Lots More Information

Related ArticlesSources
  • Association of American Medical Colleges. "Tuition and Student Fees Support." (April 7, 2011)https://services.aamc.org/tsfreports/report_median.cfm?year_of_study=2011
  • Cole, Jeffrey. Sergeant First Class. Personal Interview. April 6, 2011.
  • Payscale. "Salary for People with Jobs as Physicians/Doctors." April 2011. (April 7, 2011)http://www.payscale.com/research/US/People_with_Jobs_as_Physicians_%2F_Doctors/Salary
  • U.S. Army. "Health Professions Scholarship." (April 4, 2011).http://www.goarmy.com/amedd/education/hpsp.html
  • U.S. Army. "Health Professions Scholarship Program Fact Sheet." May 2009. (April 4, 2011).http://www.goarmy.com/content/dam/goarmy/downloaded_assets/pdfs/hpsp_fact_sheet.pdf
  • U.S. Army Medical Department, San Antonio Military Medical Center. (April 7, 2011)http://www.sammc.amedd.army.mil/