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Become a Military Doctor: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Nov 24, 2021

Explore medical careers in the military for physicians. Find out how to become an army doctor or serve as a physician in one of the other armed services.

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Military Doctor: Job Description

Medical careers in the military can be extremely versatile, rewarding, and exciting. A military doctor provides health care to military personnel and their families and can work in a variety of settings, including hospital ships and international medical centers. Doctors enlisted in the military might take part in international relief efforts by providing care to victims of natural disasters. They also might ensure that soldiers are physically fit for duty and treat injuries during combat and other emergencies. Leadership positions might involve commanding medical units or coordinating the placement and employment of medical personnel.

The military employs doctors with specializations in common types of medicine such as pediatrics, family care, and neurology. Military physicians also might receive training and treatments pertaining to diving, tropical environments, or aerospace medicine. Military doctors need self-discipline and the ability to handle intense stress and pressure. Additionally, these army doctors must be physically fit and have exceptional critical thinking and quick decision making skills. According to Payscale.com, an army doctor salary is reported for those serving in the military with a Doctor of Medicine degree, earning between $100,000 and $275,000 as of January, 2020. The following article outlines the particular steps and options required on the path for how to become an army doctor.

Degree Level Doctor of Medicine (completion of undergraduate, medical school, and residency)
Degree Field(s) Biological sciences or pre-med
License/Certification Licensed to practice medicine in the U.S.
Key Skills Self-discipline; ability to handle stress and pressure; critical thinking and decision-making skills; able to pass security clearance and physical requirements to contract with the military branch of choice
Annual Salary (2020) $100,000 - $275,000*

*Source: Payscale.com

How to Become a Military Doctor: Steps

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

The first step to become a military doctor is to earn a bachelor's degree, which is necessary to enter medical school. Premedical students usually take classes in science - such as biology and chemistry - in addition to humanities and other disciplines. Students considering a career in medicine should seek out relevant volunteer opportunities in medical centers or similar environments. To strengthen their candidacy, students might wish to pursue an additional degree or more work experience before applying to a Doctor of Medicine program.

Step 2: Earn a Medical Degree

Civilians entering the military as medical officers generally need a degree from an approved medical school. While students can attend a military medical school, it isn't necessary to have a degree from a military-affiliated school to join the military. Students might qualify for military financial aid to support them during medical school with an agreement that they join the military as a commissioned officer after graduation.

Students usually need four years to complete a medical degree. Typically, medical students take courses and have some contact with patients during the first half of the program of study. Possible course topics include microbiology, pharmacology, medicinal law and ethics. Students spend the second half of their program working in medical settings under the supervision of experienced physicians.

There are two main career paths for completing a medical degree with the goal of becoming a military doctor. These two options are the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) or the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS).

HPSP: This training is fairly comparable to civilian medical training, however students receive a basic military training and are given the opportunity to become 'active duty' and rotate at local military hospitals. Benefits to this program include:

  • Choice of any medical school in the U.S.
  • Tuition is entirely paid for, with a monthly stipend included for living expenses

Some of the disadvantages, or things to keep in mind when choosing a program that focuses on how to become a military doctor are:

  • You need to payback the years of tuition by serving as a military doctor for the same amount of time it took to complete a medical degree (1 to 1 payback program)
  • These programs very rarely allow wide exposure to military practices, such as matching processes or drills and field exercises. Because the HPSP allows for medical degrees to be completed at any academic institution, there are often few HPSP recipients and you may feel detached from the larger military medical training

USUHS: This career option is connected directly to the military's medical school. Depending on your personal preferences, there are many advantages and disadvantages to the USUHS career path. Some of the advantages include:

  • Full engagement in military training and practices. At the military's medical school, students are fully integrated in military culture, including field exercises, but also early exposure to field practice with the option of rotating across the U.S. or internationally
  • Tuition is completely free, and students receive a salary of $40,000/year with an additional $20,000 non-taxable income to be used for housing

A few of the disadvantages to the USUHS program include:

  • No choice of location and students must attend the USUHS, which is located in Bethesda, Maryland
  • Students owe the military 7 years of active military service in order to payback the free tuition of the USUHS program

Step 3: Join the Military

Exact admission prerequisites will vary between different branches of the military; however, all applicants need to meet health, character and age requirements. In addition, a security clearance might be required. Doctors might need to hold a current state medical license and currently practice in the United States. All military members sign a contract that includes a minimum amount of service time.

Medical careers in the military

Career Advancement

As with all military officers, doctors can advance in rank and receive commensurate pay raises. Promotions within the military are generally based on time served and performance evaluations. Experienced military doctors might instruct at service schools or advise other military units. They also might leave the military and apply their skills to a career in civilian health care.

In summary, becoming a military doctor requires earning a bachelor's degree and a medical degree and enrolling in the military.

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