The following guest post is courtesy of Ryan Gray, MD a Flight Surgeon in the Air Force (and recipient of the HPSP scholarship), publisher and host of Medical School Headquarters, and The Medical School HQ Podcast. He is also changing the game of private premed and med student consulting with The Academy. I suggest you check out all of his resources as soon as possible.
Medical school is EXPENSIVE. Tuition, fees, books, living expenses, test fees and so much more. If you're lucky, and have great grades, or have a financial need, the school that you are accepted into will offer you a scholarship and lessen the burden. I didn't qualify for any of my schools financial scholarships when I was accepted to NYMC. I didn't have parents that could foot the bill.
Instead, I turned to the military and looked into the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) to pay for my medical school. I went in blind. I don't have any family in the military, and I don't have any family in medicine. I just walked into the Air Force recruiters office, and asked for as much information as I possibly could.
Everything sounds great. I could apply for any residency I wanted. They wouldn't force me to do a residency I didn't want to do.
They would pay for the tuition. They would pay for the fees. They would pay for the required books. They would pay for the required board exams. And even more exciting - they would pay me: a monthly stipend would be deposited every week.
What is there not to love?
I applied for and was accepted for the Air Force HPSP scholarship. Went to Commissioned Officers Training for 5 weeks in Alabama, and soon after, started medical school.
For the most part, the military is out of site, out of mind, during medical school. The only training I did with the military was before medical school and during the summer between 1st and 2nd year. During 3rd or 4th year I also did an away rotation at one of the military hospitals.
The next part of the process is where most people turn and run from the recruiter. The match is an arbitrary process of medical education. Why we can't just apply for a 'job' and be 'hired' is beyond me. On top of the normal, civilian, match (known as ERAS - electronic residency application service), there is the military match for HPSP students. In December the military match results are posted and you learn your fate.
There are typically 4 results:
1. Match in your desired specialty at a military training site (pull out of ERAS) 2. Match in your desired specialty at a civilian site (continue with your ERAS application) 3. Don't match in your desired specialty - do a one year internship at a military training site (pull out of ERAS) 4. Don't match in your desired specialty - do a one year internship at a civilian site (continue with your ERAS application)
As a reminder, the military will NOT tell you that you didn't match in your desired specialty, but you did match in a completely different specialty. You either match, or don't. Just like the civilian application.
I applied, and ranked orthopedics at a civilian hospital number 1, and at a military hospital number 2.
I was denied both.
I was told to apply, through ERAS, for a one year internship at a civilian training site.
I was accepted and started working at a transitional year program in Boston.
At that point, I reapplied to the military match, and the civilian match. Both for orthopedics again. Again I was denied through the military match. Meaning I had to pull out of the civilian match and start my military career as a general medical officer.
Because I met the physical and health requirements, I became a Flight Surgeon.
This is where people typically ask if I regret doing the military scholarship. The answer is an EASY no.
It's easy because I have remained flexible. And I have remained open-minded.
Open-minded when I learned I would spend a least a year doing something other than orthopedics. Something I had never heard of before.
Flexible when I learned I would have to live apart from my wife, who was doing her residency in Boston, just months after getting married because I was being stationed in Delaware.
I was open-minded enough that 2 weeks into my course on being a Flight Surgeon, I called back to my wife and asked - "What happens if I really like what I'm going to be doing?" Her answer - "We'll make it work." Perfect. She was flexible too.
As a military physician I take care of the best patients in the world. As a Flight Surgeon I take care of even more awesome subpopulation of those patients.
Pilots, air traffic controllers, flight engineers, load masters, boom operators, para-rescue jumpers and so many more specialized Air Force service members see Flight Surgeons as their primary care doctor.
I get to fly. Actually, I am required to fly. Every month I need to fly a certain number of hours. I've flown in a C-5, C-17, KC-135 and I've even flown an F-16. Yes - I flew it!
I see patients. I inspect facilities. I'm the public health emergency officer. I'm the Chief of Aerospace Medicine. I wear many hats. Not all of them glamorous. But all of them, as a whole, contribute to a great job.
I've told people that if they are interested in the HPSP scholarship for money, don't do it. If you are up for an adventure, are willing to give up a little autonomy and want what I think is one of the best jobs in the world - take the scholarship and PLAN on being a Flight Surgeon.
You'll have the rest of your life to practice orthopedics, emergency medicine, dermatology, or any other specialty. Why not do something for a couple years of your life, for a lifetime of amazing memories? Oh - and you'll come out of medical school debt free.
It's not all glamorous though. I have lots of paperwork, meetings, computer based learning, and administrative stuff to do...but so does my wife. As a physician, civilian or military, there is all of that crap.
I also have lots of training exercises: training to deploy, training for mass causalities, and even more. These can get old, but it does break up the day.
So - if you're still reading. Congrats, you may be the next great Air Force Flight Surgeon.
As with everything in the military. Things change. If you have any different information specific to the Air Force, let me know comment below.
Disclaimer: My thoughts are my own. In this post, and everything else I do online, I am not representing the DoD, US Air Force or US Government. I'm not trying to recruit, just share my story.
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