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How To Become A Military Doctor [Step-by-Step Career Guide]

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Are you looking to be a medical professional that serves the country? There are people who have asked the same thing and chose to become a military doctor.

Military physicians are commissioned officers of their respective military branches and receive a myriad of benefits. However, the path they take to become full-fledged doctors is different from the path of a civilian doctor.

So, in this post, I’m going to show you the exact steps to take in order to become a military doctor. That way, you can get an insight into a military physician’s life and journey and know if this is the path for you.

how to become a military doctor

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What Do Military Doctors Do?

Military doctors perform the same duties and have the same responsibilities as their civilian counterparts. Military doctors diagnose illnesses, prescribe medicines, and provide the proper treatment their patients need.

Being a military doctor does not automatically mean that they will be placed right in the middle of combat. While they may work in the front lines when needed, military doctors often stay in a military base or anywhere they may be stationed within the country.

In addition to their duties and responsibilities as medical practitioners, military doctors can serve in humanitarian missions or perform research functions in some of the best facilities that the country could offer.

How Much Do Military Doctors Make?

The amount of money that military doctors make depends on a few factors, such as their rank and their specialty. The lowest ranking military officer can get a monthly payment of $3,385.00.

That salary can increase as they get promoted over their years in service. On average, a military doctor could make around $100,000 to $200,000 annually.

In addition to the base pay, military physicians can get numerous generous benefits. Military doctors receive medical, dental, malpractice, life insurance, special compensation such as sign-on bonuses and student loan repayments.

how to become a military doctor

Steps On How To Become A Military Doctor

Here are the three steps on how to fulfill your dream of becoming a military doctor.

Step #1. Get A Bachelor’s Degree

Military doctors are actual doctors that finished medical school. Therefore, the first step you should take is completing a bachelor’s degree to help you enter medical school. 

You can take courses in biology, chemistry, and other similar fields. You can also pursue additional degrees or give yourself more work experience before entering a medical school program to strengthen your candidacy.

It would also help if you participated in volunteer work in organizations in similar fields. In doing so, you can get a feel of the working environment you intend to join in the future.

Step #2. Earn A Medical Degree

After you get a bachelor’s degree, your next step is to go to medical school. In getting your medical degree, you have two options: the Health Professions Scholarship Program and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP)

The Health Professions Scholarship Program allows you to go to any medical school of your choosing. The HPSP will pay for your tuition fees and provide you with a monthly stipend for your expenses. 

In exchange for these benefits, you will have to pay the military back through your services. In general, you will have to serve in the military depending on how long you studied under the HPSP. 

If you were a beneficiary of the HPSP for four years, you should expect to be in service for four years. Of course, you will be compensated as an officer during the payback program.

Under the HPSP, you will receive basic military training in your second year of school. In your third and fourth years, you may be given an opportunity to be on active duty and serve in local military hospitals. 

HPSP students do not receive broad exposure to military practices. If you want to experience drills and field exercises and immerse yourself in military culture, HPSP is not for you.

Uniformed Services University Of The Health Sciences (USUHS)

Your other option then is to join the Uniformed Services University of the Health Services, or USUHS. USUHS is the military medical school where students receive free tuition and textbooks, as well as a number of benefits.

USUHS students are commissioned as active O-1 officers, which means you also get an annual income of around $50,000.

When you graduate from USUHS, you will be promoted to an O-3 officer which gives you a higher annual salary and benefits. However, in exchange for all of these benefits, you will have to sacrifice more than the students of the HPSP.

Unlike the HPSP, USUHS students cannot go to any school of their choosing as they will study in Bethesda, Maryland. In addition, the students may have to serve longer for seven years instead of the HPSP’s four years.

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Step #3. Join The Military Service Of Your Choosing

Now that you have finished medical school, your service in the military can finally begin. Military doctors must be US citizens aged between 21 and 64 and commit to serving for at least two years on active duty.

To join the military, you will have to pass specific requirements. First, your minimum GPA should be 3.0 and minimum MCAT score of 500, with additional points for volunteer work and leadership roles.

Applicants will then take a physical exam. HPSP applicants will take their physical at a Military Entrance Processing Station, while USUHS applicants will take theirs through the Department of Defense Medical Examination Review Board.

During this time, the applicants should also pass security investigations as well as exhibit the high moral standards required of military physicians and commissioned officers.

Once you pass the requirements of the military branch of your choosing, you will then sign a contract which often includes a minimum number of years in service.

You are then matched to a military residency, where you will work at a military healthcare facility. You will be an active duty physician with pay equivalent to that of a captain in the Army or lieutenant in the Navy.

Do note that as a military medical student, you can choose your specialty, but you may not get the residency that you want. This is especially true when it comes to competitive residencies. 

If you do not get selected, you will have to complete a Post Graduate Year and serve as a general medical officer before reapplying. 

FAQs About Being A Doctor In The Military

If you are getting more interested to be a military doctor, check out these frequently asked questions.

How Different Is Military Medical Work From Civilian Medicine?

Although military and civilian physicians are both doctors, military doctors may experience more stress. Aside from being a specialist, military doctors may be required to be flexible generalists during their service.

That flexibility could mean that a general surgeon may be asked to do other types of surgery. In addition, military doctors have no choice where to live.

The military is not for everyone, as it is more bureaucratic and hierarchical compared to civilian practice. For example, a military doctor’s superior chooses when and where to deploy the physician, giving them little to no autonomy over their practice.

All of these are sacrifices in exchange for excellent benefits, more extended vacations, and shorter work hours compared to civilian doctors. Military doctors get 2.5 days of paid leave per month on active duty.

A military physician’s sick day is not considered vacation time, unlike in civilian practice.

What Benefits Do Military Doctors Receive?

In addition to their base pay, military doctors receive a generous amount of benefits from the military. Military doctors that serve for 20 years can receive a monthly pension based on their base pay or a discounted lump sum.

Military doctors also get up to $400,000 in terms of life insurance with a small payment of $25 per month. They can also get healthcare and dental coverage and malpractice insurance as long as they are on active duty.

Most importantly, military doctors can get student loan repayments. The Health Professions Loan Repayment Program offers up to $120,000 all in exchange for service commitments. 

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Do Military Doctoral Students Wear Military Uniforms?

The wearing of uniforms depends on whether you signed up for HPSP or USUHS. Since you are serving as an active-duty officer in the USUHS, you will be required to wear your military uniform on campus.

However, under the HPSP, you are only required to wear your uniform during your annual training or when performing military rotations and officer rotations.

Do Military Doctors Only Care For Service Members?

Military doctors and physicians primarily provide healthcare to service members and their families. However, they can also provide treatment and healthcare to civilians, depending on their mission and deployment.

In addition, military doctors can concentrate more on their patients compared to private doctors. This is because military doctors do not have similar administrative and insurance tasks.

How Often Are Military Doctors Deployed?

There is no set frequency for deployment, as the deployment of active military doctors depends on their service, specialty, and the needs of their nation. Although there is no set frequency, deployment to hazardous areas and active combat zones is highly possible when working as a doctor.

When deployed, they could stay at their designated locations for around three to twelve months

If they are not deployed, they could serve at military hospitals or participate in relief efforts after natural calamities.

It is important to note that students attending medical school will not be pulled away from medical training for deployment. This is true for both the Health Professions Scholarship Program and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

Are Medics Military Doctors?

Although medics and military doctors are both trained in first aid, their functions are not the same. Medics are enlisted healthcare specialists instructed to provide medical assistance in emergencies on the battlefield, much like a paramedic.

Medics do not need to go to medical school; all they need to do is accomplish their grueling training, which takes 68 weeks. On the other hand, military doctors went through medical school and often do not go on the battlefield.

How Physically Fit Do I Have To Be To Become A Military Doctor?

Military physicians join the military as officers, so they are required to undergo officer training, which includes classroom exercises. They should comply with their chosen service’s height and weight standards, and candidates should expect to go on long runs and accomplish a number of pushups and sit-ups under a time limit.

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Can You Become A Specialist In The Military?

Yes, you can practice as a specialist in the military. For example, you can become a surgeon in the Air Force, where you can take care of a whole squadron.

You can also serve in the military as an anesthesiologist, emergency medicine specialist, ophthalmologist, and more. In addition to performing medical services, you can also teach military medical students or research certain diseases with the military.

However, it would be best to remember that not all kinds of doctors may be required in all military branches, such as pediatrics, radiation oncology, dermatology, urology, and the like.

However, there are specialties that are frequently available as they are always needed. These specialties include general surgery and family practice.

Do Military Doctors Get Rotated?

Yes, military doctors get rotated. After medical school, military physicians will get an opportunity to practice what they learned in medical school in various hospitals across the country.

These rotations can help military medical students pick their specialties before applying to residencies by immersing them in various military health facilities and allowing them to experience what it truly means to become an army doctor

Bonus: Want a full library of free medical school eBooks, video courses, and training? Click here to get access to your free med school advice library!

Becoming a military doctor is a long journey, but I’m sure it would be worth it. There would be a lot of studying and training. But you’ll enjoy a high salary, several benefits, helping your countrymen, and doing the job you want.

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