So, you want the Navy to pay for your Med School

I went through medical school on a Navy scholarship, through the HPSP Program

AFHPSP offers qualified students full tuition for school, a monthly stipend, and reimbursement for books and various required equipment and fees. In return, students serve as active duty medical, dental or medical service corps officers (for a minimum of three years). Scholarship recipients also attend a 45-day (consecutive days) Active Duty for Training (AT) tour for every year of scholarship awarded. The ATs range from a required Officer Indoctrination School (OIS) Newport, Rhode Island to numerous choices of rotations at military facilities. During AT, students serve on Active Duty in the rank of Ensign with all attendant obligations, benefits and respect of the rank.

Hint: Ensigns don’t get much respect, but it gets better with time.

There are several ways to have Uncle pay for your school, and HPSP is the one that lets you pick your medical school, then leads to active duty military service in either the Navy, Air Force or Army (The Navy covers the USMC). Other ways are through the Military’s own med school (USUHS).

If you’re considering this, there are a lot of good things, and there are some bad things (and this is hardly an inclusive list):
-Serve your country
-no school debt (if you can live really low).
-get paid well for an interesting summer job during school
-know where you’re going after graduation, long before the Match comes out
-All professional movers, paid for
-Pretty good work environments for Internship
-surrounded by very smart, motivated, competitive people
-Leadership opportunities like you will not get anywhere else (no kidding)
-Guaranteed vacation time
-no practice overhead
-Lawsuit immune (but the service can restrict your practice whenever they want)
-Retirement if you stick it out
-Most military docs don’t work that hard compared with their civ counterparts (huge generalization; there are exceptions to every rule)

-no summers off
-You will probably get to pick your internship field, or site, but not both
-military residencies are generally very good, but there are limited slots; you may have to wait to get in
-Needs of the Navy: if they need GMO’s, you’re going to be a GMO
-have to re-apply to get into a residency, from the fleet (much more a Navy prob); 21 surg Interns, 4 categorical Surg slots (when I was in San Diego)
-Your med school peers will be making significant cash while you’re a GMO or a resident

Don’t expect the local officer recruiter to know anything about these programs, and what they tell you applies to Line recruits. Just ask for the number of the HPSP recruiter, and go from there.

The “minimum of three years” the the quote at the top is probably for those who join the program with only 2 years to graduation (there are 2/3/4 year scholarships). There are always strings attached with Uncle’s money. I had a 4 year scholarship, so my minimum time was an internship, then 4 years on active duty, excluding residency training; the clock keeps running while you’re a resident, but you incur more pay-back time for each year you’re a resident (ask what it is when you sign up; I think it’s 1.5 yrs obligation per yr of training, but I could be wrong). If you go the USHUS route, the obligation is much longer (I think 7 years minimum, plus time added for residency).

I enjoyed my service, and it definitely helped make me the man I am today.


  1. I went the same route, HPSP for 4 years, internship (NAVHOSP PORTSVA), flight surgery, then out. Your observations are correct. I would add a few more:

    The program is a good way to avoid big school debts, and that is really important, especially now.

    You might like the service and want to stay for the length of a usual full career, but most scholarship recipients do not do this.

    If you are interested in a desirable and highly competitive residency and are yourself a good candidate, you may still have to wait several years to get an available slot. Or not.
    Opportunity can disappear with one budget cycle in the military; they can and have closed whole, thriving residency programs in one year when projected manning in a particular specialty dictated that they did not need the number of specialists they were training. Remember this if you want dermatology, orthopedics or ophthalmology.

    Don’t count on outservice funded training for residency or fellowship. It exists, but oportunities can appear and disappear almost at random. You have to be persistent and lucky.

    The U.S. Air Force is the best service to go through if you want a deferment to do a civilian residency. There is no guarantee you will get this, though, and if there is a need for a GMO, they have your number. Remember also that you are on orders when you go to outservice training, and those orders can be changed. You might not get to finish what you started the way you planned. On the other hand, you are far more likely to be assigned to a GMO billet out of the Navy or Army program, especially if you ultimately want a surgical residency spot.

    Most recruiters really don’t have a clue about the finer points of the HPSP program, or the follow-on experience. They are out to get competitive applicants and to fill their quotas. They won’t necessarily lie to you, but you won’t necessarily get the whole story, either.

    The big downside, in my opinion, is that the services often treat graduate medical education less as a necessary requirement to the complete formation of a trained physician and more as a reward that can be withheld in order to compel doctors to do work that should in this point in time be done by physicians who have completed their residency training. The reason the services do this is because they can and because they do not face the level of medicolegal scruitiny that civilian clinics and hospitals do, where complete training to at least the level of board eligibility if not board certification now almost universally the standard.
    It is a shame things still work this way, and anyone going into the HPSP programs really ought to know about this. I know the Navy always liked to wave their JCAHO accreditations around (another rant) and would say, truthfully albeit disingenuously, that all its doctors were fully licensed, counting on the ignorance of their public to not understand that this didn’t necessarily mean that all their doctors were fully trained or board certified.

    I don’t regret my decision to go the military route; many of my classmates from medical school are writing big checks every month to repay school loans and I am not. But the scholarship does come with a debt of service to be repaid, on the government’s terms, and that is not necessarily pain-free.

  2. Bad: If you’re gay, you can’t apply unless you’re in the closet!

  3. CHenry: Nice additions, and thanks.

    Good: they have standards and tell you what they are up front. You are not required to agree, you are required to conform.

  4. For another view of the costs and benefits of the HPSP and USUHS pathway to funding a medical education, you can read Admiral Koenig’s column in U.S. Medicine of November, 2003:

    The view from the top, no free lunch here either.

  5. What a tremendous opportunity, to learn and to serve. Thank-you for the info. I may just take ’em up on it.

  6. If there is ANY rational basis for preventing someone from giving medical and surgical treatment to our nation’s soldiers on the basis of his **sexual orientation** (as opposed to physical or mental ability), I’d really like to hear it. “Standards” are supposed to HAVE A PURPOSE, to make a more capable workforce, not needlessly exclude. We’re at war, for God’s sake, time to stop screwing around. Gay doctors and nurses deal with the civilian populace day in, day out, to no ill effect.

  7. Matt,
    thanks for including your pet peeve in this discussion. I’m certain this is the forum to change this policy.


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