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Lives of Doctor Wives: Reader Question: Military Scholarships in Med School

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Reader Question: Military Scholarships in Med School

We have a question from reader Shanna:
My husband is going to be entering Medical School this coming fall and has been offered the Military Scholarship. We have asked around and heard a lot of bad/good things, and people who are completely for it and people completely against it.
Any thoughts/opinions about military scholarships you could share?

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Blogger Amanda E. said...

Let me first say that I don't have firsthand experience as DH is not on a military scholarship. He does, however, have a couple of friends who do have military scholarships. Throughout medical school it seemed pretty awesome for them---zero loans and actual stipends, which is great! But then fourth year comes along and changes everything. As all of the non-military 4th years are interviewing practically everywhere and determining their list of preferences for residency programs/specialties, the military 4th years are pretty limited in both programs and specialties. We know one military 4th year who got the specialty of his choice and matched in TX for both his prelim year and anesthesia residency. On the other hand we also know another military 4th year who wanted to go into emergency medicine (a GREAT choice if working in the field). Unfortunately the military came back to him and said "too bad, so sad...we had too many people who wanted to do ER so now you get to be a pediatrician." On the positive side, it probably means he will never be in a combat area...but on the negative side he will never get to practice the type of medicine that he feels most passionate about. Of course I am also not mentioning the VAST pay difference after residency between military and non-military docs.

January 6, 2011 at 8:53 PM  
Blogger Mandy, The Mother of All Chaos said...

My husband is National Guards. It is perfect- a monthly stipend of around $2000 which helps out, but very little tuition benefits. However, he does the civilian match, does drill one weekend a month, still has control of his own life, and serves his country which is what he loves to do (and has done for 16 years.) Email me if you want more info on this option...

We have soo many HPSP friends. It seems to vary with each branch- AF is popular so it can be harder to match into from what I understand. We have some friends who matched their #1 with no problems. We have another friend who went through the match twice and never did match, so is doing a general tour at a base for 2 years without knowing what the future holds.

Your pay during school is nice, no tuition is nice, your pay and benefits during residency will be better than civilians, but your pay for 4 or whatever years after will NOT be worth it. Also, since many hospitals offer loan repayment, that may be a better option.

The bottom line is: you cannot take it for the money. You have to have a strong desire to serve and love the military enough that you are willing to share your spouse with it.

Good luck!

January 6, 2011 at 9:21 PM  
Blogger annoyed army wife said...

I saw this post and must comment but I'm running off to class tonight. I'll be back to comment in a couple of hours my husband did an army scholarship and is in his obligation service right now. Don't let the username scare you; I'll give it to you straight when I get back.

January 6, 2011 at 9:53 PM  
Blogger annoyed army wife said...

Argh! I just wrote the longest comment known to man and it didn't post. I'm to tired to write it again, so I'm going to be and will do it over tomorrow.

January 7, 2011 at 1:35 AM  
Blogger annoyed army wife said...

My husband, OccDoc, went to medical school on an army scholarship. I broke out our pros & cons list to give you some insight. Our list isn’t exhaustive by any means just salient factors for us. People will differ; some of our cons might be their pros and vice versa.

- No loans: That’s really nice, but we still have over 100k in loans from OccDoc’s 2 bachelors degrees so we don’t really know what it’s like to have no loans at all. LOL!
- Slightly higher pay in residency: OccDoc was out-earning his civilian friends and we lived comfortably, but I was still the breadwinner so his paycheck was the gravy on top.
- Base Housing Allowance (BHA): If you live off post (i.e. not on an army post/base) you get a certain chunk of money to cover living expenses. It’s usually enough to cover average rent and some utilities where ever you live, if you live on post you don’t get it. We had to live on post for a year and took a big hit not having our BHA, of course we didn’t pay rent on post but it still was a big hit.
- Job Security: OccDoc knows he’ll have a job as long as he’s in the army, it might not be what he wants, but at least he has one.
- Medical Benefits: I have never had a problem with our health coverage, other people have, but it’s nice knowing it’s very comprehensive and that I have access to good care (other than my husband, of course).
- The chance to live overseas, I’m not talking deployment. This isn’t a pro for us because we want to stay in the US, but it is a pro for a lot of people.
- The opportunity to serve your country. There is no getting around the sense of pride that accompanies this.

January 7, 2011 at 10:17 AM  
Blogger annoyed army wife said...

Sorry, it was too long.
- Limited or no choice in specialty: OccDoc and many others weren’t about to do the residency they originally wanted. OccDoc wants PM&R, but ended up being pushed/pressured into an Occupational & Environmental Medicine residency. OccDoc doesn’t LOVE being an OccDoc, but it makes for a nifty nickname on my blog. There is limited or no choice in a lot of things in the military. That’s part of the lifestyle. This is a huge part of the con list.
- Significantly less pay as an attending: Take a look at the numbers, the money is not worth it.
- PCSing/Moving: Permanent change of station, moving. This is definitely a pro for a lot of people, but we freaking hate it. Especially when we get sent to a place we don’t want to be. Two years is the longest we’ve been anywhere and that was during residency.
- Distance from family and friends: OccDoc had a handful of classmates who matched to programs far away, but a vast majority of his classmates are still back in Chicago. It would have been nice to have that support system during intern year.
- Making Weight: I put this on here because it’s a big sticking point for OccDoc. He’s a stress eater. During intern year and part of residency he had a crazy schedule just like any resident and didn’t always have enough time for working out or eating right. But he still had to meet the army’s physical standards and weight requirements. It seems minor, but if it might be an issue for your husband consider it long and hard; nobody likes to be pimped and called ‘fatass’ at the same time.
- The army: We just don’t like the lifestyle. We try to make friends, but we just aren’t army folks. OccDoc thought he was when he accepted the scholarship, but he didn’t look into it very well.
- Deployment: No matter his specialty your husband WILL be deployed for probably up to a year, depending on what’s going on maybe in a combat zone. If he’s in primary care he’ll probably be deployed a lot. Even pediatricians get deployed. OccDoc is currently on a deployment which is 6 – 12 months in Afghanistan (for those of you who don’t follow the news, that’s a combat zone). He’s been gone almost 5 months and we STILL don’t know when he’s coming home. Probably not in 6 months, so I’m hoping for 7 months. OccDoc is very busy, yesterday was a slow day so he 'only' had 58 patients. Some times on his missions his medics (3 or 4) and OccDoc will see about 300 patients in one day. Being a deployed doctor doesn’t mean he’s sitting in a bunker all safe and protected like a lot of people thing. So many people have said, ‘Don’t worry, OccDoc’s a doctor, he won’t be in real danger.’ That’s a lie. I can’t say a whole lot about it, but doctors are definitely not given some special status on deployment. OccDoc was out on a mission and the lead vehicle on his convoy hit an IED and all the occupants were killed. This was 2 vehicles in front of OccDoc.

Obviously this is a short list or else this comment would be even longer. Ha ha! Seriously, if you have any questions or you want input directly from OccDoc, which he’s happy to give, please send me an email: annoyedarmywife {at} gmail {dot} com. Good luck with it!

January 7, 2011 at 10:18 AM  
Blogger Palmacho 7 said...

My husband is Army. I have to say there are a lot of benefits to Army over other branches in terms of being able to match (in the military match, as you've noted) in a residency of your choice. There is not much say as to where you will be matched. If it's a competetive year, or if the military doesn't need your specialty, you won't get it. The needs of the military come first. There is NO specialty that will not be deployed. Pediatricians get deployed very frequently for longer tours than most. EVERY SPECIALTY WILL DEPLOY!!!! That is a given, so if you go this route, plan on deployment.

Ultimately every time I come across this question, the answer comes down to this: Do you want to serve or not? If you never had any desire for a military career or lifestyle, don't reach for that carrot. If you have felt a desire to serve in the military, it's a great option with LOTS of intangible benefits. Health care our family has received has been absolutely great, and completely free. We have never paid a copay for meds or doctor visits or ER visits or Hospital stays. But, that being said, do a LOT of research first. Google this topic, you'll come across some good links.

January 7, 2011 at 12:54 PM  
Blogger Melisa said...

So grateful for all of your serving in the military or supporting spouses in the military. You are all in our prayers every day.

I could never say it better than these ladies have, but let me repeat, make the decision about whether or not he wants to serve and keep money out of the equation. If your decision is based on money, you will regret it.

January 7, 2011 at 6:03 PM  
OpenID medicalwife said...

My husband is Army and is currently an MSIV. I have to say we have LOVED his experience in doing the military route. One difference for us: he isn't on a military scholarship, he goes to Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences- THE military medical school in the U.S. The only major difference is that he gets lieutenant pay while going through school.

As for residency choices/specialties: he and his classmates were only really limited by the number of military hospitals that offered the specialty they wanted. Most of his classmates got whatever specialty they wanted, to be honest, including my husband who matched at his number two choice for residency. I've heard that the military will sometimes put you in a specialty that you didn't even rank in the first place, but I've never seen it firsthand. The students in my husband's class who ended up in a specialty that wasn't their first choice did so because they didn't match to any of the programs they ranked in the first place. As in, they got something that said: Sorry, didn't match, but here are these other options. It's not that that specialty wasn't available at all that year, it's just that they didn't match to a program.

There are cons, if you want to call them that. I think cons are really a relative thing. For my husband he could not be happier about serving the country as a doctor in the military, and when the time comes for him to deploy he will gladly do so. I will be a mess, of course, but he willingly and happily accepts this obligation.

There is a lot of moving involved. Then again, regardless of civilian or military, you will most likely have to move for medical school, and then again for residency. It's the extra moving after residency that gets you.

Health care has been aaamazing. Really. I've appreciated this perk more than I can express.

Like the person said above, it really comes down to does he have any desire to serve? The medicine will always be there, but the military aspect is the tricky part. A lot of my husband's classmates are only there to get their M.D., do their time, and get out. That's perfectly fine, but in the meantime, they have to meet military physical requirements, understand the military system, and yes, even get deployed. Doctors are non-deployable until post-residency, mind you, and their time to the military doesn't start counting until post-residency.

We have loved it, but my husband is Mr. Army. He did ROTC in college, goes to USUHS, and plans on being a career Army doctor (going a full 20 year even though he owes "only" 11). I imagine it might be different if he wasn't so dedicated and committed to serving the soldiers. So there's that.

January 7, 2011 at 6:19 PM  
OpenID medicalwife said...

I read some of the above comments and I want to make some clarifications-

1. Being a military doctor does NOT mean he is guaranteed to not get to practice the type of medicine he is passionate about. Right now, he probably doesn't even know what type of medicine he's passionate about, and when he does know, there is a good chance he will get to do it. It's not like the military overrides everything and determines their entire medical career future. Really and truly. Does it happen sometimes? Yes. Does it happen always and often? No. Don't make the decision based on that. And he can ALWAYS go back and do another residency after his time in the military if for some reason that did happen to him.

2. Civilian doctors may get paid more after residency, but they also pay QUITE a hefty malpractice insurance premium. Military doctors do not pay ANY malpractice insurance. Yes, they make slightly less than civilians (but even that's tricky because they have a lot of pay things that get added on for special training things they do, etc.), but those civilians are paying out the a** to cover their a**. If someone sues a military doctor they are basically suing the government. The doctor is given a team, not just one, but a team, of JAG lawyers and the case is mandated to go to federal courts. Less pay, yes, but less insurance premiums and no legal fees.

Small clarifications there, and really, in the end, the decision should be about whether or not to serve. Not even just to serve this country, but really to serve the soldiers fighting for this country. It's those broken and wounded men and women who benefit from these doctors. Does he want to sacrifice a short time in his career to risk being deployed to care for soldiers? Or does he want to start his career right away? There is nothing wrong with either decision AT ALL. But the choice needs to be about the service to the country, not anything else.

January 7, 2011 at 6:29 PM  
Blogger Mandy, The Mother of All Chaos said...

Great comments from everyone!

One thing I just remembered from a friend who attended USUHS--- A HUGE perk he found was the 'built in' patients when he started his practice - military families have to go to the base doctor, so he didn't have to worry about building his name and reputation and advertising. Just another perk.

On the deployment talk.... I gotta be honest, as I reflect, the deployment was WAY easier on our marriage than medical school has been, in my experience! Minus the worrying about his life and safety every second of the day (we had the exact same story of him being in the 3rd truck when the 1st in his convoy was blown up by an IED and 3 were killed, 1 saved by my hubs which made him know he wanted to go to med school).

And the perk of having the earliest residency match and not having the match stress hanging as long as everyone else ;0)

January 8, 2011 at 8:28 PM  
Blogger Melanie said...

We took the army route. My husband is a 4th year med student. We just matched and got second choice. I really don't know if we are going to like it yet because besides the 6 week basic training and audition rotations we haven't done a lot with them. Getting a stipend has been nice though.

January 9, 2011 at 8:14 PM  
Blogger Meghann said...

This is really interesting--I just randomly found this blog on google and I like it! My husband is a fourth year at USUHS (military med school). He got his first choice for residency. I'm not sure about some of the comments above, specifically Amanda. I have NEVER heard of the military forcing anyone into a residency that they don't want. If someone doesn't get their first choice, they can choose to have a transitional year and re-apply. They can do flight surgery for a few years and re-apply. In fact, as far as I understand it, in the military you have MORE options than civilian world if you don't match. Also, there is no "black monday" in the military, which I view as a HUGE perk :)

Also, Medicalwife is right--the "base pay" may be less than civilian doctors, but as an officer, you get a pretty hefty housing allowance every month. We get around $2000 a month, on top of our pay, for housing. That number will only go up as he gains rank. You also get specialty pay, and a myriad of other pays to make up for the difference. Oh, and NO DEBT.

I love the military. My own dad is retired USAF, my brother is USMC, and now my hubs is military. I couldn't be more proud of his service.

January 16, 2011 at 10:00 PM  
Blogger Palmacho 7 said...

The housing allowance is based on the zip code of where you are stationed. If your DH gets stationed somewhere with a low cost of living, the BAH will go down.

We are in the residency end of the spectrum after going through USUHS, and I can say that it is very specialty specific for your experience in military medicine. As a 4th year at USU things are pretty darn peachy.

My Dh has had no negatives with residency training, but there is a wide variety of experiences with matching in a program of your choice with respect to what branch of the military you go with.

And the experience for HPSP vs USU can be very different. And the difference in pay is much bigger at the end of the day for the surgical specialists vs the primary care- military makes great financial sense for primary care minded docs, BUT primary care docs will deploy more often and for longer tours.

Ultimately, start with the decision if you would like to serve or not. It is a family decision. The military will not take into account where the spouse wants to live UNLESS the spouse is also an active duty soldier. If you find as a family that you are up for the adventure, consider what specialty you are going into. If you want primary care, any branch will work for you. If you desire specialty care, be very careful. It's a numbers game and the Army has the numbers, and therefore more training spots, and therefore more likelihood you'll get your training spot of choice. Navy is the branch with the highest chance of not having a continuous residency- having to complete an intern year, then go out in the field to work as a flight surgeon or GMO (basically a lower paid non-board certified family practice doc) and then reapply for fellowship after this 2-3 year tour.

There is a lot of info out there. Good luck.

January 21, 2011 at 9:48 AM  

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