Category Archives: Residency

The Nuts and Bolts of the Health Professions Scholarship Program

The Navy Health Professions Scholarship Program is the primary means for the Navy to “hire” our physicians.  In fact, the approximately 200 scholarships offered each fiscal year dwarf the numbers of positions available for those who wish to affiliate with the Navy while in residency (9) or are already fully licensed and board certified (10).  This post provides details about the features and benefits of the program.

FULL TUITION PAID- This is the biggie, the attention getter, the heart and soul of the program.  Tuition is paid directly to the school of your choice and is good for any accredited school in the country.  It doesn’t matter if the school is allopathic or osteopathic, in state or out of state, if you are accepted; tuition is covered.  In addition to tuition being covered, so are all required textbooks.  Other students “on a budget” may have to look at textbooks as way to cut costs.  They will ask around to find out if a book is legitimately REQUIRED, or if the word required is more of a recommendation.  HPSP recipients don’t have this problem.  Required means you’ll get the money for the books. You will have everything you need to succeed!

SIGN ON BONUS OF $20,000-  BAM- Twenty grand (less taxes) deposited right into your bank account!  Use this for anything you want! Many put it towards reliable transportation and/or moving expenses but it’s yours to be used any way you like.  This payment is processed by Navy Finance Office once school starts, so it usually deposits into your account in mid-September and provides a great financial boost as you begin your matriculation.

MONTHLY STIPEND-  The money keeps rolling in.  In 2013 the stipend is set at $2,122 and provides money for you to live on.  Many typical medical school students take out loans each semester to cover their tuition as well as living expenses.  This can mean a pretty bare cupboard as the money starts to run out.  HPSP students can count on a steady deposit of funds each month.

Taken together the three points above (Tuition/Bonus/Stipend) combine to ensure the HPSP medical school student  not only survives medical school, but provides the means to do so worry free. HPSP enables you to graduate free of any medical school debt.

OK, what’s the catch? This is a common question when benefits seem almost “too good to be true”.  Well, the catch is, you must serve in the Navy as an Active Duty Physician once you graduate.  So the “catch”  is you already have a job after graduation. The benefits listed above are essentially our way of “hiring” you four years ahead of time. What’s even better is that you’ll make a lot more money as a Navy Resident than you will as a civilian resident.

How long must I serve? Service payback time following graduation is a minimum of a four year requirement, though there are some caveats.  Payback time does not include time that you spend in a training program, so RESIDENCY TIME DOES NOT COUNT for this. Since you need to do at least one year of residency in order to take your final USMLE test and become board certified, the actual minimum time in the Navy is five years. The best way to look at it is this way; the Navy hired you to work as a doctor and therefore the payback time only counts if you are doing a job as opposed to training for a job. When taken from that perspective it makes a lot of sense.

Will I have to do any Navy stuff while in medical school?- It’s important to remember that the Navy is investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in YOU, so your success in school is the ultimate goal of the program.  HPSP is designed to produce awesome doctors.  This is why the Navy impact on your life during medical school is very minimal.  HPSP students report that many times they only remember they are in the Navy when they look at their bank account.

While there are a couple of Navy requirement, they are designed to either have no impact on your studies or to provide a specific benefit to your time in medical school.  Again, your success in medical school is the intent of the program.

You will be required to attend 5 Weeks of Officer Development School (ODS) during the summer between your first and second year.  You do so at this time because it’s really the only summer you have off.  The school is in Newport, R.I.  At ODS you will learn the basics of how to be a Navy Officer.  You will learn how to wear your uniform, US Navy customs, courtesies and traditions, as well as other essential leadership and management skills.  You will also be required to pass a Navy Physical Fitness test.

During your time in medical school you will technically be commissioned as an Ensign in the Navy Reserves. As such, there will be a few times that you will be paid for active duty service time.  Sometimes this is done as “school orders” in which you remain at school and continue your studies, but other times it can be a more tangible benefit.  For example, in conjunction with your school many students may choose to do an elective rotation (usually done during third and fourth year of school). All students may have this opportunity but HPSP students can do this at a Navy Hospital and get paid to do so.  This is also a great way to make name for yourself at an institution where you may want to do a residency.  Interested in doing a surgical residency in San Diego? Do a surgery rotation out there as part of medical school.  Think of it as an extended interview……with pay (much more than the stipend amount, by the way).

Will the Navy tell me which residency I have to do?  No…not at all. The Navy offers over twenty programs.  Most of the residencies are offered at one of our “Big Three” Hospitals, either the joint Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, or one of our Naval Hospitals in Portsmouth, VA or San Diego, CA, though the Family Practice Programs are at some smaller facilities.

The application process is similar to the civilian match system with one difference.  The smaller size of the programs and fewer locations also means that it is administered by actual people, as opposed to a computer system.

All HPSP graduates will enter a residency program and do at least one year in order to be eligible for the final step in their USMLE board certification. Some will have a categorical match (meaning you go straight through) and some will do a two year break as a General Medical Officer before returning to their program. GMO jobs include working in operational billets as the lead medical officer aboard ships, with helicopter or jet squadrons, supporting submariners, or supporting the Marine Corps.  GMO opportunities are unique to the Navy and something that you should seek to learn about during your interview process.  Operational tours are usually the basis of a great many “sea stories” and the experiences as GMO are unique.

I’ve found in my experience that this aspect of Navy medicine may start out as a drawback to the program at first, but upon learning about it from actual physicians, it often becomes a driving factor in the decision to apply for the Navy.

Should you decide that you wanted to make the Navy HPSP a transactional relationship (as mentioned earlier), you could work for four years as a General Medical Officer and then get out to pursue civilian opportunities.  I know a few physicians that have done this for various reasons.  In each case they were happy in their ability to move forward with their careers debt free while their civilian peers were still paying off mountains of debt.

Most physicians, however, choose to complete their residency training through the Navy.  Because training time does not count as payback time, the career paths they choose drive the total number of years they are required to serve.  Residency programs do incur a service obligation (one year payback for each year in training) but the payback for the residency time is paid back AT THE SAME TIME as any HPSP obligation.  So the ability to begin paying back depends on the length of the residency. (Pediatrics is 3 year program while surgery is a 5 year program, for example)

This sounds like a lot to think about. Yes, it can be confusing at first. That’s why the best thing to do is to learn about the Navy early.  It’s also good to remember is that the length of service is ultimately driven by the career decisions you make.  One the best things about the HPSP application process is meeting with actual Navy Physicians and hearing their stories about training pipelines, GMO tours, and their experiences during their residency training.  Cultural fit is important and no one wants to feel “trapped” in any organization.  It’s been my experience that the number of physicians unhappy with the way things turned out for them is very rare and I’ve written about that here.

Understanding and getting comfortable with this process is critical to ensuring you ultimately enjoy your Naval career. To learn more about Navy Graduate Medical Education you can click here. I also encourage potential applicants to talk to current HPSP students as well as current and past Navy physicians.

The scholarship and money aspects of the Health Professions Scholarship are amazing and it is often the reason people first look into the Navy. It’s no secret that the Navy offers the big bucks as an attention getter and there is nothing wrong with that.  Once you learn the scholarship exists, though, the next thing to do is learn about Navy medicine.

The Navy is not for everybody, but it is for a lot of people, and you may be one of them.  Talk to a recruiter. Talk to an actual Navy doctor (past or present). Ask the questions. Do the research.  In the end, if you think the opportunity to travel the world is cool, then do it. If the prospect of working with an outstanding family of medical professionals as you serve our nation is up your alley, then do it. If the opportunity to make a difference on a global scale is important to you, then do it.  Apply for the Navy Scholarship for those reasons.  The money is just the icing on the cake.

For more information about Navy Medicine you can click here.  You can also use this link to locate a medical recruiter nearest you.

NOTE: Although I retired from the Navy in June of 2014 I will continue to respond to the comments section of this post.  As time goes on, my answers will likely become more and more general in nature, however.



Filed under Culture, Doctor, Residency, Scholarship

Organizational Culture: Right Person for the Right Job

In my 18 years in the Navy I’ve had the opportunity to work with a great number of medical officers.  Many absolutely LOVED the Navy and have stayed, or are planning to stay, for a full 20 year career. Others have enjoyed the Navy for what it can also be; an opportunity to practice medicine on a global scale for 5 to 10 years, serving Sailors and Marines, as well as their families. After a while these doctors, nurses, and dentists eventually moved on to civilian practice, loaded up with great training and some seriously cool “sea stories”.  I can only think of two people, however, that absolutely dreaded coming to work.  These individuals were not only miserable, but they made life tough for the entire work section.

Why were they hopelessly miserable?  As it turns out, their reasons were similar.  In both cases the reality of their situations at the time were not in alignment with what they expected a Navy career to be like.  To be honest, I don’t really know what lifestyle they expected, but it doesn’t matter.  The only thing that mattered was that they felt trapped, and by extension, were worried that they might have been falling behind in life.

SAN DIEGO (March 4, 2011) Lt. Lauren Mattingly, an intern in the Naval Medical Center San Diego Graduate Medical Education program, examines a newborn baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The graduate program trains doctors in the development of clinical and professional skills. The hospital has 24 accredited programs such as obstetrics gynecology, internal medicine and orthopedics. More than 70 interns are enrolled in the 2011 Graduate Medical Education program. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Joseph A. Boomhower/Released)

Two.  That’s it. In my career only two were so miserable that they were actually a detriment to the mission.  It’s not many, but both were memorable situations.

Understanding the environment you are entering is critical to ensuring long term happiness in any endeavor.  These two unhappy souls painted themselves into a corner because they were too focused on immediate benefits and did not learn enough about the organization they were committing to.

The best organizations pay their employees just enough to keep them happy financially, but they really distinguish themselves in other areas such as organizational culture.  Of course, not all organizational cultures are the same, just as no two individuals are the same.  The real trick for an individual is to find a culture that fits their personality. In a similar way, organizations (including the Navy) actively seek out people who will mesh with the culture they already have.  When personality and organizational culture are aligned, success is exponential.

Money can’t buy happiness, but, of course, there is also nothing wrong with making a nice living doing something that makes you happy.  Compensation is very important and should certainly be factored into career decisions and there is a significant amount of money involved in affiliating with the Navy. Medical school scholarships are worth well over $200,000.  Physicians in certain residencies can earn close to $70,000 a year (in addition to residency pay) to affiliate after training, and licensed physicians with some skill sets can receive over $100,000 just for signing on.  But even if your primary mitivation for looking into a Navy career is a monetary one, you still owe it to yourself to investigate what your future will be like in the Navy.

The Navy wants individuals who will be successful in our organization. That’s why the affiliation process requires two interviews from current Navy officers.  Applicants tend to come away from these conversations with a much clearer picture of what their future will look like in the Navy.  These Navy medical professionals go out of there way to approach subjects such as deployments, residency programs and other training opportunities.  

They speak candidly about their ability to pursue personal goals, such as  family life, as well as the highs and lows of a Navy career. In addition, they speak to the responsibilities inherent with being in the military, as well as the specific constraints of the system.  The goal is an honest representation of what a future Naval Medical Officer can expect.  The more people learn, the more excited they get about a future as a Naval Officer.  The more they know ahead of time, as an applicant,  the easier it will be to navigate through any bad days they may experience once affiliated.

Oddly enough, the two miserable doctors I spoke about may actually have enjoyed the Navy, had they known what was coming.  It wasn’t the Navy as a whole that made them grumpy, it was feeling like they had been victimized.  All jobs will have some good days and some bad days.   I believe that had they had a better recruitment experience they either would have been more prepared to handle any bad days that came along and thus experienced a more successful (or at least had a more tolerable) Navy career. That, or they would not have joined at all.  Either of these would have been a more desirable situation for all parties involved.

The Navy isn’t for everyone and not everyone is meant for the Navy. I do believe, however, that there are many individuals who can find happiness and success in the Navy despite not even knowing it yet.   If you enjoy the opportunity to travel the world and working in an incredible team oriented environment the Navy may well be the place for you.  Check out the opportunities in Navy Medicine at the official Navy Medical Officer Recruiting website or you can reach out to me for more information.

Bob Wheeler

Chief Hospital Corpsman


Filed under Culture, Dentist, Doctor, Nurse, Residency, Scholarship