I am strongly considering applying for US Army HPSP when I (hopefully) attend medical school. I would like to be an emergency medical physician, but my parents don’t agree. I would not be doing it just for the money, although the funds would eliminate debts. It would be a fulfilling job and a great way to get into emergency medicine. Anybody here who can tell me more about what is it like to go through HPSP and whether, as my dad says, “it would be a waste of my time”?

Can you elaborate on what your dad means by “it would be a waste of your time”? What’s he referring to? Being an emergency medical physician? Being a physician? Serving in the U.S. Army?

@WayOutWestMom can you speak a bit to the HPSP program?

In order to qualify for the HPSP scholarship, an applicant must:

  1. Be accepted to a medical school
  2. Meet all the physical, mental, medical and other criteria required of those who wish to volunteer for military service.

The HPSP program is very competitive. (Moreso in recent years because funding for the program was slashed by the previous administration and it has not been restored.)

Each service branch has X number of scholarship to offer. The Public Health Service has the fewest with only 1 scholarship offered each year, followed by the Air Force, then the Navy. The Army has the most scholarships.

Applicants who are current active duty service personnel get first preference for the scholarships, Honorably discharged military personnel get the next preference with any remaining scholarships going to civilian applicants.

HPSP scholarship recipients are commissioned as officers in the military upon acceptance into the program and must complete basic training before beginning med school. The HPSP scholarship pays tuition, fees, health insurance, plus a stipend for books and other materials. The recipients also earn a salary commensurate with their military rank.

HPSP recipients are required to do their residency training in a military residency program and the needs of the service supersede an individual’s desire for a specific specialty. IOW, military doctors are not guaranteed that they will get a residency in the specialty they desire. Fortunately, emergency medicine is one of the specialties that all the service branches need and getting one thru the Military Match ought to not too difficult.

There is a service payback requirement for HPSP recipients. The exact number of years varies depending on a a lot of different factors, but 6 years active duty is the minimum. Payback begins only after residency is completed.

So “not worth it” really depends on what your parents mean by that.

Military doctors have no med school debt, but their incomes are much lower than civilian doctors. Military doctors have no or little control over where they will live and practice medicine. They often relocate every 2 or 3 years.

If by not worth it, they mean the free education isn’t worth the reduction in salary–that’s a personal judgement.

Most physicians go into significant debt during med school ($300K is the median); however, after the completion of residency, if an individual budgets carefully they are usually able to pay off their educational debt in 10 years or so. 3-5 years if they are really diligent and live like a resident while earning an attending’s salary.

If by to “worth it” they’re talking about doing EM–that’s an entirely different argument–and there is some truth to their sentiments. Emergency medicine is facing a rather alarming situation–an oversupply of EM doctors. Already EM physicians are having difficulty find jobs–even in rural areas and in less desirable areas to iive–and EM salaries are declining.

P.S. If you really wish to serve in the US military, you can always volunteer to join the Army after you complete your medical training. Physicians are always needed.



Have you shadowed any EM doctors? Or volunteered or worked in the emergency department?

Frankly it’s foolish to be picking medical specialties before one has been accepted into medical school. Med students change their mind about their choice of specialty an average of 3x during med school. This is because you don’t know if you will qualify academically for a specific program or specialty, and because college students have little to no exposure to the full range of medical specialties.

Most people believe EM is like what they see on television and the movies. Lots of life or death crises where the EM doc saves lives. That’s true, but only to a limited extent. Most of EM is primary care medicine for people who don’t have or can’t afford a primary care physician of their own. For every heart attack or stroke or car accident that comes into the ER, there will be dozens of mildly sick kids, people wanting work notes after they’ve taken sick days off, toothaches, headaches, diarrhea/stomach aches, minor lacerations that may or may not need stitches, and people in need of psychiatric care.

A EM doctor once described emergency medicine as hours of boredom interspersed with a few minutes of sheer terror.

Even military EM is like this.


My husband and I went through medical school on HPSP scholarships through the Army. I can speak to my experience though some details may have changed and you should do some research on the specific requirements as they are now or at the time you apply. Upon acceptance to med school I applied for the HPSP scholarship in all three branches, AF, Navy and Army (the public health scholarship wasn’t available at that time). By the time I was accepted to med school in March the AF and Navy were already full.
Upon acceptance we were commissioned as second lieutenants. As WayOutWestMom describes above all required expenses, tuition and fees were paid by the military. We received a stipend that covered other expenses. We did our basic training during the summer between our first and second year of medical school and were paid a salary commensurate with our rank during that time when we were on active duty, we did not receive that salary during other times when we were in school when we were on reserve duty status. I was also able to go on active duty during other times when we were not actively in school such as at the end of our 2nd year when I and a few of my other HPSP classmates went to Ft. Huachuca AZ and shadowed Army physicians in a clinical rotation and in between 3rd and 4th year when I spent a month at Tripler AMC in Hawaii doing a clinical rotation. During those times we were on active duty status and received 2nd Lt. pay.
I did my internship and residency at Fitzsimons AMC in Colorado which unfortunately no longer exists as an army hospital and then was subsequently stationed for 2 years at a hospital in Germany and finished my commitment in Virginia. My H did a fellowship at Walter Reed AMC and finished his commitment in TX.
Here are some thoughts: the freedom that came with the financial aspect of having all tuition and fees covered and having a stipend is huge. I took several fun trips during med school and did a lot of dining out and it was nice not having to scrimp and save and worry about expenses on top of the stress and demands of medical school. The ADTs (Active Duty Training) in northern VA outside of DC and the clerkships I mentioned above in AZ and HI were a great experience. For those trips, all travel and lodging is paid for on top of getting paid as an officer.
Traveling- if you love to travel and experience new things the military through the HPSP program can be a great way to do that with the caveat that you don’t get control over where you go. You can make requests but ultimately get sent where you are needed.
IME and from talking to fellow physicians that have gone through traditional residencies there are some differences in training. Many of the military medical centers may only have one specialist in any given area and may or may not have fellows, more often not, so residents are given a huge amount of responsibility and it can be a little trial by fire at times. We did things as residents that are usually done by fellows at other centers. The same is true for example when we were stationed in Germany we were at a medical center and were flying by the seat of our pants a lot of times. Downside to that is that you don’t have multiple people in the same specialty with multiple fellows giving you multiple perspectives and maybe a more nuanced overview of any given clinical situation though we were able to do a few electives at the civilian hospitals in Denver to round out our training and faculty from the hospitals in Denver often came for lectures and grand rounds. We became very resilient and resourceful because of the style of our training.
At the time we started our internship (1987) most of the physicians who were older than us and were our mentors had never been called to temporary duty in an active conflict. That started to change after our residencies during the first gulf war when many of my fellow physicians were sent to Kuwait and subsequently Bosnia and then Iraq and Afghanistan. We did not stay in the military after completing our commitment but in talking to friends who have almost all of them have been tasked with going to either Iraq or Afghanistan, some more than once.
It’s worth looking at where military hospitals are in all the branches. If accepted you will do your internship and fellowship at a Medical Center which for the most part are in places that are desirable to live in. Then you will be stationed at a hospital where you are needed in your specialty. We were extraordinarily lucky in that we were always stationed at Medical centers and lived in some really great places with the opportunity to travel in Europe when we were stationed in Germany. Not all the smaller hospitals are in such great places depending on how you define that.
The upsides are really the financial aspects. No debt and though the pay is lower than as a civilian you get a housing allowance that is not taxed and a yearly bonus that boost pay and I think our pay as residents was higher than our civilian counterparts at the time as well as receiving that housing allowance. I would think the no debt advantage would be even more of a factor now since the cost of medical school is so high. It also gives you the freedom to pick a lower paying specialty because there is not that burden of being able to pay back a large debt.
Downsides all probably relate to lack of control. You go where the military sends you and while you are active duty you are on their schedule. So full time with schedule dictated by their needs. It can also delay settling down and getting started on buying a house etc. so put you a little behind your peers in that respect. Anecdotally I have a friend who I met in my basic training who is in a highly desired specialty and despite completing his commitment the Army has not allowed him to retire and end his military service.
Overall I loved it. I have lived in so many interesting places and met so many great people from all over. For me the pros outweighed the cons.
This has gotten long and a little rambling so I hope this is helpful information for you and if you have any specific questions I will be glad to try to answer them. Good luck!



There is another scholarship for service program that will pay 100% of the cost of your medical education: NHSC (National Health Service Corp

This program pay tuition & fees, an annual payment for “other reasonable costs” (like exam fees, study material, residency interview travel, etc), plus a monthly stipend for living expenses.

Scholarship are available for 2, 3 and 4 years.

In return, the recipient will owe 1 year of full time service for each year of scholarship. In some cases, the payback service can be done as less than full time employment. (But less than full time will extend the payback time.)

The catch? Scholarship recipients must enter a primary care specialty: family medicine, internal medicine, OB/GYN, pediatrics, geriatrics. In the past both EM and psychiatry were also included on the allowable specialty list, but neither are listed currently. Service will be at clinics/hospitals in federally designated medically underserved areas.

If you are interested in working with military veterans, the VA Hospital system offers a loan repayment program for physicians: SELRP. There are no restrictions on eligible medical specialties. Physicians who enroll in the program must agree to work for the VA for a minimum of 2 years and there is a repayment cap of $160K.

Additionally, there are state based programs offering scholarship for med students who agree to return and practice in medically underserved areas of the state. Check your state’s Dept of Education website to see if your state has one.


EM is a very over enrolled specialty at this point. People are graduating from residency and unable to find jobs. There is replacement by physician extenders and urgent care take overs. I dont know that an Army Scholarship is a bad idea but choosing EM now before even starting medical school seems like a premature decision.

you can find a lot of information at

There is no guarantee the military will send you to medical school. Slots are very competitive. You have to want to be an officer and serve our nation FIRST.

1 Like

HPSP is not the same thing as attending a service academy and making medical school your first choice when it’s time to fill out your “dream sheet.”


Agreed, medical school after a service academy is a whole different animal. is the place to go if you’re considering that route, but the OP is not considering that path, @PB1961.