The military is offering to pay for my medical school- what’s the catch?!

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As many of you start applying for medical school, the main focus is usually just getting in! However, the other main consideration that most people have is the cost. This may be particularly scary if you already have a lot of debt for other reasons, such as undergraduate loans, or if you are most interested in a lower paying specialty. This can be intimidating!

Often, this is the time that most people hear about the Health Professional Scholarship Program (HPSP), which is a scholarship program that each branch of the military (Army, Air Force, and Navy) offers to pay for medical school. If you have prior military service or ties you may have an interest based on those reasons as well. There is also a military medical school, but it works differently, so we won’t get into that now. So what exactly is this program?

HPSP offers to pay for all of your medical school tuition, fees, books, board exams, supplies, health insurance (if required by your school), and offers a small stipend as well (mine was around $2k/month). In return for this scholarship, you are required to “pay back” four years of active duty service time. The military also has residency programs, and most HPSP students will complete their residency in the military (although there are a few civilian deferred spots as well). Because you are active duty during residency, you are paying back your medical school time, but you are concurrently accumulating more time to pay back- you must then work as an active duty physician to pay back for your residency years. Make sense?

For me, I attended a civilian medical school, and basically you would never know I was in the Army other than everything was paid for and I went to an “officer training” for 6 weeks my first summer. I matched into dermatology at the Army program in San Antonio and I am now in my last year residency. That means that this summer I will have paid back my medical school obligation. However, they just trained me (and paid me as a Captain) for four years, and I owe that time back. So now I will go work in Alaska for 4 years, as an active duty dermatologist on base. After that, I can leave, or sign up for more time.

I am very grateful to the Army. It is amazing to walk away debt free from a rather expensive medical school. My husband and I had many additional opportunities including him going back to school, because we had my stipend and other costs were covered. My residency training has been exceptional, and I get to take care of some incredible veterans, active duty members, and their families. I am well compensated as a resident, and my family all have free health care through Tricare. This has been particularly extraordinary considering my oldest daughter broke her leg one year and my baby had a 10 day stay in the NICU. I didn’t pay a penny and the care was incredible.

What’s the catch? Being in the military is full of uncertainty. I was given a list of places to choose for payback, but there were no guarantees of where I would go. Sometimes people get what they really don’t want. The pay is less as a board certified physician. There is always the risk of being deployed, although this varies greatly by specialty. As a medical student, the number of residency spots can really vary each year. The military doesn’t force you into any speciality, but if you don’t match into what you wanted, you can either scramble into another spot that is left, or you can choose to work as a general medical officer until your commitment is up. Military medicine is currently undergoing a huge overhaul, with a focus on specialties that are considered essential to war-fighting (think: trauma surgery, ortho, ED, etc), with less and less focus on others. This is going to change a lot of things.

Which branch should I choose? Everyone has their own unique reasons for choosing one branch over another. Some have family traditions or commitments. Others choose based on potential bases where you could be stationed. Others choose based on lifestyle. I chose Army because it is the biggest branch, so it had the most number of residency spots available. The pros and cons of each branch can really vary by specialty- so if you know what specialty you want to do, try to talk to someone in that specialty to find out what it’s really like. Reach out to me if you have no contacts, and I will help if I can.

Kate Kimes, D.O.

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I BOMBED the MCAT…Am I doomed?

Hey guys, have been seeing a lot of posts regarding the MCAT and have the sense that there are some discouraged people out there so I wanted to share my personal story.

I took the MCAT the first time when I was a junior in undergrad. I took a kaplan class, studied for my classes (which included o-chem, physics, physiology etc) and did everything I thought possible to do well on the test. Long story short, after dedicating hours and hours of my life to that damn test I BOMBED it……..

I had wanted to be a doctor since I was 16 years old and in one day I thought my dream was severely compromised. I will be honest, I felt pretty lost at that point in my life. I decided that at that point my biggest priority was finishing the spring semester of my junior year strong and to try and not feel distracted by the gloomy MCAT. By the time summer break had rolled around I had mustered the energy and motivation to begin the study process again. This time I evaluated the weak spots from my previous MCAT and focused on those areas. I did A TON of practice questions and practice tests. The second time I sat for the MCAT I knew I had prepared better and I knew what to expect out of the testing centers which cultivated into an entirely different experience.

When I got my score back the second time I was SHOCKED to see that my score had drastically increased! Having increased my score by a significant amount I was able to use the story of how I turned poor score into a decent score in almost every interview. I used it to demonstrate how I took a crappy situation and was able to step back, change plans, and have the motivation to keep going forward despite having a significant setback. This was met by great enthusiasm by the people interviewing me.

Today, almost 10 years after that grueling 6 months of MCAT studying, I go to work every morning and put on my blue scrubs, wash my hands, put on a blue surgical gown and work to change peoples lives forever. Today I am a senior orthopedic surgery resident on the verge of completing my dream of becoming an orthopedic surgeon.

Remember, that through the process of becoming a doctor everyone will have difficult roads. It is not how difficult the road becomes but what you are willing to do to overcome the mountain. This is a long hard path but the journey is worth the destination!

I am happy to answer questions about my life in medicine this far just shoot me a message on this blog, a private message on facebook or instagram, or on our facebook page On Call Mentors. I have invested a lot into becoming a doctor and want to see as many people succeed as I can, it would not have been possible without the mentors that have helped me through. Good luck with everyone’s studies and road to become a physician.

Clay Dorenkamp, D.O.

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Training to be a doctor takes too long- right?

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For those making tough decisions, I wanted to share a mindset altering moment I had years ago

My junior year of college, I was struggling to decide if I wanted to go to medical school or not. My original plan was to be a physician assistant. Two of my biggest mentors were PAs, and I so admired them. I was working through my pre-requisite courses, and I had completed my certified nursing assistant certificate in order to start gaining clinical hours. I was working part-time on the orthopedics floor of my local hospital, and as an as needed/on call position in the emergency department. I had it all planned out, I was working as much as possible to gain the 2000 clinical hours I needed in time for graduation, I would take the GRE after graduation, and apply to PA school. Just two additional years and my whole life and career would be ahead of me! 

However, as I spent more time in the clinical environment, I noticed how limited the scope of practice could be for the PAs. I noticed that most of the fun and interesting procedures were being done by the physicians. While the PAs I worked with were super smart, hard-working, and compassionate, their thought process wasn’t always the same as the physicians. I didn’t really want to spend an additional 8 years in training, but I didn’t want to feel like I missed out on my true calling. I was conflicted.

I went to talk with my best friend about my uncertainty. She worked at a local coffee shop, so I ordered a coffee and sat with her, explaining the pros and cons of each scenario. Before she had the chance to weigh in, one of her co-workers spoke up. What he said was so enlightening!  He mused “One of my best friends from high school is finishing his internal medicine residency this year. We graduated at the same time, and yet he is months away from being a doctor! It is crazy to me that someone my age is a doctor. The time is going to pass either way, at the end of it, what do you want to be doing?”

Well, I went all the way, and now I am in my last year of my residency. The time did pass either way. The friends I have made along the way and the experiences I have had have been absolutely incredible. I love what I do. That’s not to say there weren’t sacrifices. I have been away from my closest friends and family for the last 8 years. I have missed countless weddings, birthdays, parties and celebrations. I have had two children without my “village” of family to help me raise them. My husband has been mostly helpless in where he gets to live, has spent numerous evenings watching me study, and has had to act as a functional single dad while I was away at conferences. But the future couldn’t be brighter.

You can never know what the future will hold, or truly know the best option for you. However, if your focus is on the time, if you are scared to dedicate yourself for such a long time. I encourage you to mull over those words: “The time is going to pass either way.”

Kate Kimes, D.O.

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Exhaustion

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No matter what path you take in your medical career, exhaustion is going to, at some point, slam into you during your medical school and residency career. And it will happen multiple times. I wanted to take a small opportunity to share some words of wisdom about the exhaustion you will experience. First off, EVERYONE in medicine has felt it! No matter how tough or stoic those who came before you may seem, they have had these moments of overwhelming fatigue, dread, and loneliness. However, these moments are growing pains to what you will become. You will grow and adapt into a stronger professional who will know how to handle these moments in the future with grace. It is, above all else, to know that you are not alone. There is always someone available to talk to or lean on, whether it be a friend, colleague, or a family member. Never feel alone.

Secondly, you will learn more in the moments when you feel as though you have nothing left to give. You will wake up the next morning having made through the rough patch smarter, more experienced, and capable of overcoming obstacles in the future. There will be multiple times when you want to bail, but you will make it through everyday. It gets easier, and you will rest eventually. All shifts end, tests come and go, you will pass off the pager to someone else, and you will get a break!

Lastly, look at the rough moments as the biggest teachers. You learn the most significant lessons when you are working hard and pushing yourself to be better. Experience is heavy and grueling, but it will make you grow into a very well prepared physician. It gets easier. I promise you. And which that said, take the opportunities to take care of yourself. Put time aside when you are off, and a few hours a day to be normal! You deserve it. And you’ve earned it. Exhaustion is difficult, but it makes the breaks so much better and enjoyable. You become more appreciative of the world around you, and those who make you happy. Exhaustion is a part of the growing and learning that you will experience. Never feel alone. There is always someone who has felt what you have felt. And what you are feeling is totally normal. Reach out and talk to someone. It may be difficult, but it’s somthing that will make all the difference.

You are stronger than you could possibly know and have more potential than I can put into words. You can do this if you just work hard, be kind, and look out for one another. It’s not always going to be easy, you will make big mistakes professionally and personally. You are human, you will get through them and learn from them. When exhaustion hits, take a moment to look around, you will find that there are multiple people in the exact same boat as you. Find comfort in that and shove on, you are strong.

Leandra Jelinek, D.O.

Lifelong Mentorship

[Editor’s Note: This guest post was submitted by Jesse Tran who is a current PGY4 EM resident who is an avid reader of personal finance outside of world of EM. Currently trying to introduce financial literacy as standard education in residency. Believes in the mantra “A smart man makes a mistake, learns from it, and never makes that mistake again. But a wise man finds a smart man and learns from him how to avoid the mistake altogether.”]

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A mass of scales, tightly engaged in constricting manner with its fangs latched onto the owner’s terrified upper lip. The 8-foot Burmese python had unsuspectedly sized up its prey for the last several days, denying any form of feed from its owner. Before going to bed, the owner, a middle aged female, came to perform the nightly ritual of kissing her snake to sleep. Tonight, however, she was met with a return kiss followed by a vice like grip around the neck. With swift action, the owner was able to introduce her left arm into the mixture before it complete coiled around, giving her a barrier from complete suffocation. My attending, Dr. “Awesome,” came in with no hesitation, injected the snake with several milliliters of Succinocholine and with a serrated kitchen knife he preceded to cut the snakes head off. The listless head then began to release its fangs and fell to the ground. All this unfolded while I was an ER scribe, trauma room 2 to be exact. This and many more similar experiences helped solidify my resolve to become an EM physician.

            The power of mentorship is not to be trifled with, as over the years your professional relationships can help you navigate the new world ahead of you. As I progressed through medical school, the thoughts of which specialty I would pursue changed several times within the first 2 years of didactic education. You only have so much finite time in your premed years to experience the wide breadth of medicine. My exposure was mainly the ER. I knew nothing of operating room, primary care clinic or birthing center.  Though obtaining a glimpse of several specialties during my 3rd year clinical rotations did help me and probably the vast majority of my classmates solidify their decision into what residency fit them.

            To this day I still reach out to Dr. “Awesome” and along the way, I’ve developed strong relationships with my attendings to further facilitate life beyond medicine. My ultimate goal is to reach a life where I can live without the constraints that would inhibit my long term happiness. There are several things that must be done to obtain a good mentor:

  1. Have a strong passion or curiosity for the potential goal you want to pursue.
  2. Find a mentor who embodies the qualities that make them stand out to you.
  3. Ask questions.
  4. Get involved.

That relentless move to better yourself and avoid the prior mistakes of your predecessors will help you avoid the pitfall of having to correct your mistakes whether that saves you time or grief. We as a group are here to support the future medical professionals by becoming a resource for your ultimate goals.

Who is your mentor(s)? Comment down below or contact us for any questions.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel.

Here I sit, 12 years after I graduated high school in 2007. Now a bit more than a year away from becoming a fully licensed orthopedic surgeon. I tell people that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, it is dim and flickering, yet I am not sure whether it is the end of a long grueling road or an oncoming train with more difficulties ahead. The path to becoming a surgeon has been a humbling experience.  With countless sleepless nights, exams, patient encounters, and surgeries it has become clear to me that this is a lifetime process. While many aspire to become physicians and surgeons the road to success is full of obstacles and uncertainty. With this blog myself and young physicians I have met along my path would like to give future doctors encouragement and guidance for the long and rewarding road ahead.

As I sit here, a young professional, I can remember my first experiences in medicine. While you think that this is probably a jaw dropping experience, I have to say that my first memory of “shadowing” as a high school student I showed up in khaki shorts and a polo shirt… I look back at that situation today as I tie my tie and button up my white coat, I can only laugh at how far I have come.  As the years have passed I have had many experiences that have shaped the doctor I am today and I can only hope that my experiences, along with the experiences of the other physicians on this site, can help guide your path to make it even a little smoother.

If you are considering medicine as a future profession, I say go all in. This is one of the most rewarding experiences that I have ever undertaken. There will be struggles and there will be failures, but do not let them define you. I assure you that every success along the way gives you a sense of accomplishment that will push you toward your next goal.  We look forward to helping you along your path.