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- Paying for College
Medical School Scholarsip (AFHPSP)
Air Force Health Professions Scholarship Program
Some people have their parents to help pay for undergraduate, some don't. The difference between these two kinds of people is about $200,000 worth of student loans, which, after accumulating interest, will ultimately amount closer to $250,000 by the time they are paid off.
Some people have their parents to help pay for medical school, some don't. The difference between these two kinds of people is about $200,000 worth of student loans, which, after accumulating interest, will ultimately amount closer to $230,000 by the time they are paid off.
Now, sometimes someone trying to attend medical school will luck out and will have been the first type of person in both scenarios. But, sometimes they were the second. In the case that a student has to take out loans for his/her undergraduate education and then has to double down in the loan department in order to pay for medical school, this person is now almost half a million dollars in debt. This is almost like the perfect storm, where the interest on the undergraduate loans is likely to continue growing for years before being paid off, on an already huge debt, in effect pushing back when the medical school loans are also paid off.
Medical school can be difficult a challenge enough without having a heavy cloud of stress and debt hovering just over head. So, what are your options? In this article, I'm going to bring to light the pros and cons of having your medical school education paid through the United States Air Force Health Professions Scholarship Program.
The basic idea behind the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) is that, when applying to Medical school, generally in the fall of their junior year of undergrad, a person can also begin applying to the Scholarship Program. The program is very competetive, however, there is no magic MCAT score or GPA that is going to get an applicant accepted. The Air Force recruiter I've been in contact with really drove home that the acceptance process is not cut and dry, that they've taken exceptional applicants, but have also taken business majors with sub 3.0 GPAs and poor MCAT scores hovering around 24. It really depends on what the person can bring to the table as a whole, however, an MCAT score of about 30 was considered average for the scholarship program.
Beyond doing well academically, clinical research and volunteering at a hospital are the most obvious ways to demonstrate your interest in a career in medicine; in particular, volunteering at a VA hospital would be ideal if possible. If time/money is not of huge concern, it would also be good to take an EMT class where you would be more likely to get more involved with patients than otherwise available to undergrads due to HIPAA regulations.
Part of the application process is undergoing a physical by an Air Force physician. Whether healthy or not, it is best to get this process underway sooner than later. For example, if you waited till the month before med school began and say you had a bad back, the physician might need to make some consultations with other doctors about your situation which could take months and you would have missed the boat. Plan on getting the process of completing your physical underway around the same time you start applying to med schools to ensure everything works out.
So the general idea of the scholarship program is that you owe the Air Force a year of active duty for every year they pay of your education; so, in the case that you're planning to be doctor, you would have to be an Air Force physcian for four years. Below are the pros of the program:
- The Scholarship. The Air Force will Pay for Medical School. As a rough estimate, four years at $50,000 a year is $200,000.
- The Stipend. While in Medical School, the Air Force pays you a monthly stipend of $1960. This comes out to $23,520 a year or $94,080 throughout the four years. This is going to allow you to be the best student you can be, allowing you to focus on learning medicine and not money. Moreover anything school related, tutoring for example, will be paid for. Note: the Navy program gives a stipend of $2088/month.
- Vacation. 30 days paid vacation a year along with 10 federal holidays off. Also, on vacation, you can travel available space on military aircraft for free.
- Medical/Dental Care. Free for you, cheap for your family.
- Retirement: 20 year non-contributory plan, reap the benefits without paying into the system.
- Recreation. Fitness clubs, golf, bowling, etc. offered free or at reduced prices.
- Shopping. Shop at on base grocery and department stores at tax-free, reduced prices (about 24% cheaper than civilian stores).
- Job Security.
- Helping your country and those protecting it.
- With the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to be implemented in 2014, the pay-gap between private doctors and government paid should decrease. You shouldn't be going into medicine for the money in the first place, but this will make it easier to do a good thing.
- Between the scholarship and the stipend alone the program is worth $294,080, however, really it is worth more considering you don't pay interest on the loans you would otherwise have to take out.
Here we go:
- You owe a year of active-duty for every year of education the Air Force pays for. This does not sound great, but it is really not that big of a deal. While you would be on "active" duty during your first tour as an Air Force physician, the Air Force will generally not allow physicians during their first four years to travel over seas. Basically, if you're on an Air Force base in say North Korea, and you're the only neuro-surgeon on base and am not experienced nor overly confident about what you're doing, that is not going to help anybody. The only way you would end up overseas within your first four years as a physician is if you volunteered to go and got your request approved. Thus, you would likely be at one of the US based Air Force bases as shown in the above figure.
- Is the work dangerous? From everything I've heard, not at all. You would basically be a physician on a US Air Base, so the only difference would be where you practiced; you would not be jumping out of air planes, flying helicopters, or anything of the sort unless you chose to participate in a certain training program. So why is this a con? Based on the nature of the Air Force, if the US were to go to the war could you be called overseas? Maybe, maybe not. I don't honestly know but would have to consider it to be a possibility.
All in all, the Air Force HPSP is a remarkable opportunity and it is one I am going to pursue this coming year when I apply to Med School; you get a chance to serve your country, better yourself, and free yourself of a tremendous debt. Granted I'm only 23, but to me, the more debt you have the less freedom you have. So if you don't want to be a slave to debt, would rather contribute to a great cause, and if you simply can't afford medical school.... well, you can.
Thanks for Reading,
NOTE: I have focused on the Air Force scholarship, but the other branches (Army, Navy, etc.) also have their own separate programs. The generalities of the scholarship are the same (i.e. year service per year school paid for, stipend, etc.) however once in the program there can be differences. Beyond the obvious ones (i.e. if you are in the navy, you will probably be working on a boat), certain branches are more able to match medical school graduates to residencies, for example, the army is supposed to be great with this, the air force is more limited. Each branch has a different amount of scholarships and, based on what I was told recently by an army doctor, the army awards about 270 scholarship a year, air force about 150, and the navy is somewhere in between. The Air Force scholarships tend to go first since people view it as more mild in manner, but there are definite advantages to each branch.
Also, for those who are interested but do not want to go the military route, the National Health Service Corps is an alternative to look into.