Looking back on my career, it’s hard to believe that it was 5 years ago when I first started the process to apply to medical school and to the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) . I received my interview invites in August prior to my senior year and I wasn’t accepted to HPSP until February of my senior year so I didn’t even think of asking schools about
In hindsight there were somethings I wish I had known that were specific to my school and how they treat their military medical students that I hadn’t thought of researching prior to attending, but I wasn’t sure what to ask. While having these answers probably wouldn’t have changed my decision to attend the school I did, it’s best to cover all your bases prior to committing to a school. It is very hard to transfer medical schools, and once you commission in the Air Force you are locked into a long contract, so having your questions answered prior to committing sets yourself up for success when navigating HPSP and medical school.
Is there a Military Group/Club on campus?
My school had multiple branches, and at the branch I attended we did not have a military club or any prior service faculty members. I was fortunate to have 3 other Air Force HPSP members, but as we were part of the same class we were trying to figure out the process together. It was frustrating that we didn’t have any guidance as to how to wear our uniforms, what forms were required of us, or how to set up ADT rotations. Not only did we not have anyone to turn to for guidance, but we also did not have any real sense of camaraderie. Some of the HPSP members I met while at COT would talk about how their school would have mock PT tests, military meetings, or “Military Mondays” where they would wear their uniform to class.
Do I qualify for financial aid?
I wish I had asked my school about financial aid prior to attending, but because I was already in the midst of applying to HPSP I didn’t think I would have to worry about student loans any more. As I attended school in a small town in Pennsylvania, I was able to live on my stipend alone for the first 2 years of medical school. However towards the end of my 2nd year I had paid for my board exams out of pocket, which typically take about 12 weeks to be reimbursed, and had to pay for a moving truck, security deposit, first month’s rent, and all the other associated costs to move to my clinical rotation site. I decided I needed a bit more money to make ends meet so I contacted my financial aid department to request a loan and was promptly told “no”. My school counted my stipend as part of my financial aid which meant I was receiving the maximum amount of money a student could request for loans. I had to request a one time increase to my “cost of attendance” for my 3rd year to be able to take out a small loan, but was unable to take out any additional loans to cover the cost of residency applications and interviews.
While this was my experience at school, several other HPSP members I knew at other schools were able to take out loans without any difficulty because their stipend was not counted as part of their financial aid. Because financial aid varies between schools this is something to ask prior to committing to a school. I was fortunate that I was able to take out a loan from a family member and could work part time, and I’m not sure I would’ve been able to stay in school without this assistance.
Keep in mind the stipend you receive is a set rate for all students across the nation. So while I was able to live on my stipend for two years in Pennsylvania, I couldn’t imagine someone with dependents or someone living in a large metropolitan area would be able to live off of the stipend alone.
When did previous HPSP students do COT/BOLC/ODS?
I was fortunate enough to be schedule for COT during my break between 1st and 2nd year, but some of the other HPSP members in my class were wait listed and unable to attend during this break. This meant some students had to wait until 3rd year to use an elective or vacation rotation to attend COT and other students had to wait until after graduation to attend COT. While attending officer training late shouldn’t affect your ability to match into whichever specialty you are applying for, you won’t be able to wear a uniform, or properly execute military customs and courtesy’s without this training.
How flexible is my 4th year schedule for sub-I’s/auditions.
The military residency timeline is much more condensed than that of a civilian medical student. Ideally you will want to schedule your military rotations (your ADTs) between June-September of your 4th year, whereas civilian students can be auditioning through December/January. While some schools allow for very flexible schedules during 4th year, others may have less forgiving schedules. For instance, my school had a study month in June for studying for Level 2 and my school did not allow us to schedule two electives back to back. With this in mind, I had to ensure I did not schedule my two ADTs in a row because my school wouldn’t have approved these rotations. For those in HPSP you’ll want to start applying for ADTs in the early winter of your 3rd year so you may not be aware of your 4th year schedule just yet. Because of this it is important to know if your school has any restrictions on how you arrange your auditions.