July 11, 2018

{Guest Post} How to Become a Military Medical Professional

Thank you to the Real Caregivers for sharing this informational post. They showcase caregivers and their journeys through interviews, videos, and articles. 

How to Become a Military Medical Professional: A Step-by-Step Guide

Some people dream of becoming a doctor; others dream of entering the military — and some people dream of both. There are many career options available for those who wish to become a medical professional in any one of the five main branches of the United States military: Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard. Here, we lay out a step-by-step guide for what it takes to become a military medical professional.

Contact a military recruiter.
There are multiple medical positions, scholarship opportunities and branches in the military. A recruiter will be able to go over all your options and help you figure out the best choices for your situation and interests.

Pursue a bachelor’s degree.
Becoming a medical professional in the military follows a very similar path to that of a civilian doctor — and it starts with college. If you’re currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree, try to pick a science or medical field, such as biology or chemistry, that will make it easier to get into med school. Keep your grades up since medical schools look for students with a high GPA. When you can, seek out medical volunteer opportunities and shadow current practitioners to bolster your application.

Study for and pass the entrance exam.
No matter what specialty you select, you’ll probably have to study for and take an entrance exam to get into your medical graduate school of choice and achieve a high enough score to be admitted to the program. The most well-known exam is the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), which is required for med school.

Determine when to enter the military.
You can start your career in the military at various points in your medical career. You can apply as an undergraduate though you must already be accepted to a graduate program at that point. You can also apply during med school or your residency — or even after you’ve gone into practice. The earlier you enter the military, the more years of scholarship money you’ll get and the more years of active duty you’ll have to commit to the military.

Meet the military’s entrance criteria.
Different branches of the military have different admissions requirements, but all applicants need to meet health, character and age requirements in order to be accepted into the military, even if they’re planning a medical career. A security clearance might also be required.

Undergo officer training.
Military physicians don’t undergo the same Basic Training as enlisted service members, but they do have to participate in officer training, which takes anywhere from two to 10 weeks. Officer training helps new recruits learn what’s expected of them and varies from branch to branch of the military.

Figure out your finances.
One of the many reasons people are attracted to careers in the military is the tuition benefits, and the military extends this opportunity to medical professionals as well. For example, the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) offers full tuition for up to four years of school, funding for books and medical equipment, a $2,200-plus monthly stipend and a $20,000 signing bonus. Other scholarship programs are available as well.

Go to graduate school.
Just like civilian medical professionals, you’ll need to attend medical school, nursing school or another certified graduate program. You can apply to a “regular” civilian university or look into the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS), a health science university that specifically prepares medical professionals to enter various branches of the military.

Match with your residency.
Prior to residency application, aspiring doctors will do at least one rotation at a military medical facility to see if it could be a good fit for their residency. Military medical students must apply to both the military and the civilian residency selection boards. The military match occurs first, and if students aren’t matched to a military residency or post-graduate program, they will be authorized to go through the civilian process. If you don’t match, you can switch to a military residency in another field or take a one-year internship.

Complete your residency.
If medical students match with a military residency, they will be paid as a captain in the Army and the Air Force or as a lieutenant in the Navy. Time spent in a military residency does not count toward the active duty service commitment but does count toward eventual promotion, pay longevity and retirement. Students who match with a civilian residency will be paid by the civilian facility, but they will remain an officer in the Individual Ready Reserve, and their residency time counts towards promotion and pay longevity.

Choose full time or part time.
Students, residents and licensed physicians can choose between these options. Some doctors are drawn by the perks of a military position — longer vacations, shorter hours, freedom from building a practice or worrying about the business side — and enter one of the branches as a full-time medical profession. Others prefer to work part time, maintaining their own clinical practice while serving as a reserve officer.

Consider a career change.
If you’re currently on active duty, you can still apply to become a military medical student, although you may have to fill out extra applications. For example, currently enlisted active duty members of the Army are eligible to enroll in colleges or master’s programs to become a nurse, physician’s assistant or allied health professional.

Keep your eye on the prize.
Becoming a doctor, nurse or other medical professional is a long, arduous process, and entering the military adds even more steps on top of that. But many find the choice is ultimately very rewarding because being a military medical professional allows you to serve patients and your country at the same time — and the tuition benefits certainly help, too. Follow these steps to start your journey to becoming a military medical professional today.

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