Join Date: Jun 2003
Location: Ohio or Texas
HPSP Scholarship Details and Career Counseling
Eight years ago I accepted a 3 year HPSP scholarship in the Army. I am currently deployed to Afghanistan and have about 18 months left on my commitment. About seven years ago I wrote a HPSP Guide for this site (still in use!). This is my revision as well as some points to my career that may influence your decision at the end
1. The pay
Signing bonus of $20,000. (variable based on need, may go down as war's slow down)
Monthly stipend of $2000 a month for 10 and ½ months per year
2nd Lieutenant pay of $2800 a month for 1 and ½ months per year
Total Pre-active duty pay: $121,000 (When I joined in 2002 it was only $66,000!)
All Books, Fees, and Tuition to the medical school of your choice in the USA or Puerto Rico
Adventure, jazz, props from the public, a nifty uniform, and the sense of pride
Rank of 2nd Lieutenant while in school and promotion to Captain upon graduation. Promotion to Major at end of 6th year of active duty.
One thing I do not agree with but that is notable is that those doing a civilian residency receive "years of service" credit while in Residency. So basically you can do a 5 year civilian residency and then work one year in the Army and be promoted to Major....seems kinda wrong to me but it keeps the pay scale in line for those doctors.
2. What are the requirements?
Pass Physical Fitness and weight standards, be eligible to be commissioned as an officer in the military, enroll in an accredited medical school, apply and be selected (automatic acceptance in for Army is 3.5 GPA and 29 MCAT)
3. What is the payback?
One year of service per year of scholarship received. Military residencies do count as payback, however, you also accrue one year of payback for each year of residency after your FYGME (Internship) year. In other words you can complete one extra year of residency past your level of commitment without incurring more time. (4 year scholarship recipients can do 5 years of post grad training without accruing more time). Also if you do a civilian residency you payback will not start until you start on active duty.
4. What will I make as a physician in the military?
These are new figures calculated as of 2011 for a 4 year scholarship. I have factored in the cost of medical school education, stipend, bonus, and interest to attain a scholarship value.
Medical School Education Loans Saved * 4 years: $160,000
Interest Saved: $29,000
Pre-Residency Pay: $121,000
Total Scholarship Value (4 years): $310,000 (about 77.5K per year of commitment)
Military Pay (average stateside)
Pay: 44.5K (Captain)
BAH: 12K (housing allowance)
BAS: 2.5K (food allowance)
VSP: 5K (specialty pay based on years)
BCP: 2.5K (board certification pay)
MASP: 15K (flat pay given to all doctors)
ISP: 20K (independent specialty pay based on specialty: Family Medicine)
30 days paid vacation and free health/dental/vision
Yearly Pay as a Practitioner: $101,000
Yearly Compensation as a Practitioner for 4 year commitment: $178,500
(Military Pay + Scholarship Value/4 years)
Average Starting salary for a civilian FP: $135,000
If you choose to stay in the military there are bonuses for resigning that significantly improve your pay however they require multi-year commitments. Currently a four year commitment for a family doctor signed AFTER your initial commitment is worth $36,000 annually.
Pay is pretty competitive for primary care, for specialists it is not even close. A cardiologist in the Army can expect to make at most about $200k. In the civilian side its closer to $300K
5. What will I make as a resident?
Yearly Pay as a Resident: $63,500 (No ISP, MASP, or BCP)
Average pay for civilian family medicine resident - $43,000
You receive 30 days vacation yearly as well but most programs limit you to taking 15-20 days a year while a resident
6. Physical Standards
You must meet height and weight requirements to get the scholarship and periodically while in the military. The Air Force also has a PT test as part of the selection process. Each service does height/weight different. You can look up the different services charts on Google. All services are getting stricter about physical fitness standards of docs and residents.
7. Where will I do residencies/rotations?
Really depends on which service you select. However I strongly suggest that you do a rotation in the specialty you desire at your top location choice. Most Navy and some Air force candidates will be required to do GMO/Flight Surgeon tours after their internship (2-3 years) and before residency. You can gain valuable experience but personally I hate this idea. The army really only does this if you switch specialties and their are no residency spots available in the specialty you want. At the end of your internship you will know just enough to kill somebody well and not enough to catch what is really important. I personally believe GMO's do not have enough knowledge to be adequate physicians. Of note, if you chose to get out after you serve your time as a GMO (if your contract is up), it may be harder to get a civilian residency as you are so far removed from your internship and schooling.
8. Where can I get more info about HPSP and applying?
The Best Site for unbiased HPSP info is Luke Ballard’s site: Google Luke Ballard HPSP
9. Is the four year obligation really only four years, or can a "stop-loss" order keep you in much longer? When does my commitment really end?
A stop-loss order in a time of war could keep you in, however it is highly unlikely given back-last over previous use.
10. Assuming a four year obligation after residency, how many times can they make you move (not counting a deployment, of course)?
Twice after residency. Unless you are really unlucky. A stateside tour is 2-4 years. Overseas tours are 2 years if you don’t have family and 3 years if you do.
11. Since HPSP students are in the reserves during medical school, can they be called up even though they have not completed their medical education for regular reserve duty?
No. Under no way can you be pulled out of school or your 1st year of residency.
12. State School, private school, or daddy's pocket?
You should not take the scholarship for just the money. You will regret it. You must have a desire to serve in the military. The military is not for everyone. That being said, you will regret taking this scholarship if you are going to a medical school that costs less than 20K a year. The money you will make early in your career would easily offset such a cheap education loan.
13. What about after graduation?
The military requires that you apply for a military internship year (FYGME). Nearly everyone will do a military internship. Your FYGME will either be in your field of choice (possibly fast tracked into a residency) or done as a traditional rotating internship year.
The military requires that you apply to 3-5 military residencies during your 4th year of medical school and if you match (most likely) you will be required to accept. If you don't match in your field you can defer out and do a civilian residency.
Military retirement is 0% vested until 20 years, after which it becomes fully vested at ½ base salary. Most physicians that choose to stay till retirement will be Lt. Colonels. This means a yearly retirement pay of about $35,000 plus lifetime healthcare benefits. There is however talk of modifying the retirement pay (not in ways that will be better). Retirement is pretty good if you stay 20 years as you can still get another job however you HAVE to finish 20 years to get anything. That to me is a big drawback.
15. Why the Army?
Why did I select the Army? Several reasons actually. I have family history in the Army which made me lean one way, but the Army has a lot more scholarships and residencies then the other branches as well. I applied later in the year so my best shot was in the Army. The Navy had some drawbacks for me, mainly in the form of the required GMO tour. The Navy and Air Force arguably have better residency and base locations and have shorter deployments. I think branch of service is more a personal choice than anything else. However if I had the opportunity to make my selection again I would probably choose the Air Force.
16. What has my career been like so far (Army Family Medicine)?
I completed medical school in May of 2006 and 5 days later moved to Hawaii to begin my residency at Tripler Army Medical Center. Hawaii isn’t a bad place to do a residency. I enjoyed my non-working time there and work was tolerable. Tripler is a major medical center so as a family resident I was a little bit disadvantaged when it came to procedures and learning in some of the departments as they tend to teach their own residents first. A medical center does though usually provide a nicer call schedule in 2nd and 3rd year than a hospital with only family medicine residents would. Overall my experience was like most residencies. I would say on a whole that we probably had a smaller inpatient population then some civilian residencies yet we still saw quite a bit of pathology.
Each specialty and branch treats your first assignment differently. For my specialty, we are interviewed about where we are from, where we would like to go, and what is most important to us (i.e. location, clinic job, hospital job, unit based job). My wife and I were leaning towards leaving the military and felt that we would only get one shot at living overseas so I volunteered for Germany however I was insistent on going to clinic as I felt a unit job wouldn’t provide the continued learning I felt I needed leaving residency. The interviewer then weeds through all the candidates and tries to match you as best as he can to a future assignment. Not everyone gets their top choice, but the guy actually does a pretty good job. If you are good candidate (chief resident, high board scores, former military) or know how to work the system you can sometimes help the process along. In my case, contacting the commander where I wanted to go and being chief resident helped me get the particular base in Germany I wanted. Prior to going to Germany I had to complete OBLC in San Antonio as I wasn’t able to do so between my 1st and 2nd year of medical school. They no longer offer waivers for this course. OBLC was a complete was of time considering I had been in the army for 3 years and most of the information is geared toward medical platoon leaders, not doctors. You will learn the military finds interesting ways to waste your time. Also never, ever believe anything anyone tells you about your career. Get EVERYTHING in writing. I have had several disappointments because I was misled by others along the way.
In Germany I took over doing primary care and procedures. Military medicine takes some getting used to but once you get it down it can be pretty enjoyable. About 6 months after I arrived in Germany I got orders to deploy with a unit in Germany (2/2 SCR) to Afghanistan. If possible they will have you attend their 3-4 week train-up held in Germany, Louisiana, or California about 3 months prior to your deployment. As a physician you are required to report to your unit (usually not located at the same base as you) about a month prior to your deployment and they can keep you for up to 3 months after. Most units however release you within two weeks. If you are joining the Army you can count on deploying for 6-12 months within one year of graduation from residency and because your unit often isn’t co-located with you, your deployments are actually about two months longer than the rest of the unit. There are plans to eventually shorten army deployments to 9 months.
The only nice thing about deployment is pay. Most of your pay (except bonuses) is tax free while deployed and you receive several other pays like family separation pay ($250/mo), hazardous location pay ($100/mo), combat pay ($225/mo) and per diem ($3.50/day). In all it means that while deployed I am making about $1600 more a month after taxes.
A few weeks after my deployment I returned to my home clinic (Wiesbaden, Germany). I will be promoted to Major at the 6 year mark (June 2012. I may become the medical director there within about 6-8 months which should provide some good experience while I finish the remainder of my commitment. I have no desire to stay in the military past my commitment which ends September of 2012.
17. Would I do it Again?
That’s a really hard decision to make. There are a lot of variables.
First there is the money. The scholarship is worth twice what it was when I joined (we had no bonus and were paid $600 less a month). The military will pay you at least $20,000 more a year in residency than the civilian side. At the same time they get money back during your initial commitment. They will pay you at least $35,000 less (as a family doctor) per year then you would make as a civilian. That’s over $120,000 in lost pay. However you add in the scholarship value and the extra pay in residency and you do come out significantly ahead.
Second is lifestyle. I would likely have never had the opportunity to live in Hawaii or Germany had I not joined. I have visited a lot of Europe for very cheap due to living there. The army has great free healthcare and provides a lot of discounts on many things. That being said, if you were unhappy with your job, your co-workers, or your lifestyle in the civilian side, you could pack up and move. That is not an option in the military. I likely would not be happy with the lifestyle the army has provided me if I had done my residency in Georgia (my last choice) and had my first assignment in Fort Polk (Middle of nowhere Louisiana). You don’t always have a lot of control over this.
Third, you should consider family. For the most part the Army provides fairly well for families but that doesn’t make it easy. It is very hard for spouses to find jobs overseas or to uproot their job or educational objectives every few years. For me, family is the most important thing. My wife and I had our first child shortly after we arrived in Germany and I had to leave him for a year when he was 8 months old. That has been very hard. I have no desire to leave my wife and child again for this length of time. Deployments are long and difficult. We have weathered the storm but not everyone does.
Finally, think about what you want in a career. I have 18 months left in the military but I already have had a few civilian job offers that I really wish I could take right now. I instead have to patiently wait and hope they will still be there when my commitment is up. Army medicine is fun for me. Army politics and posturing is not. I have no doubt that I will enjoy my medical career more outside the military then I have inside the military.
Would I do it all again? I don’t know. For today’s offer maybe. Given the offer I had, probably not. The bonus would have helped a lot and my stipend was so low I had to take additional loans just to make rent. I am happy that I took a 3 year scholarship as well instead of a four year given that I now want to get out. Also if I did it over I would have joined the Air Force instead which offers shorter deployments and better base locations (although fewer training sites). I loved Hawaii and really like Germany but I will never get this year back with my son.
CPT Beau Ellenbecker (texdrake)
Army Family Physician
The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature cures the disease. ~Voltaire
Last edited by texdrake; 07-06-2011 at 11:04 PM.
Reason: UPDATE STICKY POST