How Becoming a Doctor in the Army Works

Doctors and nurses tend to a wounded American soldier who's just arrived in the trauma ward at the Kandahar Role 3 Hospital in Afghanistan.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

You want to join the Army, serve your country and see the world. You'd also love to become a doctor -- after all, the healing professions are just the thing for you. Hey, why not do both?

The Army needs doctors -- and offers generous financial assistance to attract them. The American Medical Association estimates the average cost of four years of medical school to be more than $250,000 [source: U,S, Army] and the Army offers aid to pay for the whole package.


The pay for an Army doctor may not be as high as that of a provider in private practice. Basic pay for an Army captain is $44,543 a year [source: U.S. Army], while the median salary of a general practice civilian physician is $119,122 [source: Pay Scale]. But completing a residency in a qualified field can bring a $75,000 bonus [source: U.S. Army]. Promotions, allowances, board certification and re-enlistment bring more money.

Plus, Army doctors often work shorter hours than their civilian colleagues. They enjoy regular vacations and excellent benefits. They have a guaranteed job with generous retirement benefits.

Some aspiring physicians are attracted to the life of an Army doctor. You won't need to build a practice or manage a business. No worries about malpractice insurance, no dealing with health insurance company bureaucracy. You'll have opportunities to travel and to enjoy the camaraderie of the service.

But the military lifestyle is not for everyone. The bureaucracy and hierarchy of rank can be a drawback for some. Most Army doctors are deployed overseas at some point (though not necessarily to a war zone), away from their families. And keep in mind that once you enlist, it's your superior officers who decide where you go and what you do. They will try to honor your preferences, but there are no guarantees.

About 65 percent of Army doctors are reserve officers, serving part-time when not called to active duty [source: Darves]. The rest opt for a full-time military career. Almost all medical specialties are represented. You'll also find opportunities to do research, to teach, or to work in medical administration.

Read on for some valuable tips for becoming an Army doctor.


Tips for Becoming a Doctor in the Army

Your first step will be to contact an Army recruiter. That person can give you a clear picture of your options.

If you decide to become an Army doctor, you will begin with same medical training as any physician. You'll attend either a civilian medical school or the special Uniformed Services University, a federal medical school that trains doctors for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Public Health Service. When you complete your education, which may include specialized training in combat medical skills, you'll enter the military with a captain's rank. Army doctors do not have to go through basic training. Instead, they attend a six-week Officer Basic Leadership Course, which teaches about military life and the role of a leader [source: U.S. Army].


Keep in mind that the Army requires the same high academic qualifications as any medical school. That means you need a solid grade point average and a good score on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). You'll also need to have recommendations from professors [source: Darves].

The Army has additional qualifications that don't apply to civilian medical students. You need to be physically fit and must pass height and weight standards. You'll have to receive a security clearance [source: Darves].

The financial assistance opportunities are many. Here are some of the ways the Army can help with the cost of your medical education [sources: U.S. Army; USU; Directorate of Medical Education]:

  • The Health Professions Scholarship Program pays all your tuition and fees for four years of medical school and gives you a monthly stipend of more than $2,000. After you graduate, you'll serve one year in the Army for each year you received the scholarship.
  • The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences is tuition-free. Graduates must complete seven years active duty and six years as a reservist [source: Frager].
  • The Financial Assistance Program is designed for medical school graduates wishing to go for specialized training. On completion, they become active duty officers for at least two years. .
  • The Specialized Training Assistance Program is designed for physicians currently enrolled in residency programs. You receive a monthly stipend of more than $2,000 and become part of the Army Reserves when you finish.

Probably the best tip is: Don't become an Army doctor just for the money. Financial help with your education is great. But joining the military an important decision that will change the direction of your life. You need to be motivated by more than dollars.

The next section will give you more valuable information about becoming an Army doctor.


Military Doctor FAQ

How much do military doctors make?
Military doctors earn up to $275,000 a year. These funds include their yearly bonuses and additional compensation.
How do you become a military doctor?
Military doctors are required to complete their bachelor's and medical degrees in order to qualify. They are then required to join the military.
Do military doctors fight?
Military doctors may not fight physically but they face ethical challenges while treating their patients as enemy soldiers require medical assistance as well.
What rank are military doctors?
When you enter the military as a licensed physician, your rank will begin as a Captain of the Army or Major of the Air Force.
How long does it take to become a military doctor?
If you graduated with a medical degree after 4 years and go straight to training, you will have to serve 4 years in the military as well to become an official military doctor.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Darves, Bonnie. "Exploring Military Physician Careers," NEJM Career Center, September 2002. (accessed March 31, 2011)
  • Directorate of Medical Education. "Student Management Office." (accessed March 31, 2011)
  • Frager, Ken. Public Affairs Officer, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Personal Interview. April 5, 2011.
  • "Salary for People with Jobs as Physicians / Doctors," April 4, 2011. (accessed April 5, 2011).
  • Rolan, Troy. Media Relations Division, Army Public Affairs. Personal interview. April 5, 2011.
  • U.S. Army. "Corps Benefits." (accessed March 31, 2011)
  • U.S. Army. "Education Opportunities." (accessed March 31, 2011)
  • U.S. Army. "Fact Sheets: Health Professions Scholarship Program." (accessed March 31, 2011)
  • U.S. Army. "Medical Corps Officer." (accessed March 31, 2011)
  • USU. "School of Medicine." (accessed March 31, 2011)