The United States Medical CorpsUpdated: February 14, 2021
As a member of the U.S. military, you will have access to amazing benefits. You’ll get a rewarding career, a great salary, and awesome education benefits, just to name a few. But one of the greatest benefits is the availability of top quality and affordable healthcare for you and your family.
Medical professionals from doctors and surgeons to nurses and combat medics to medical lab technicians and medical support personnel make up members of the military medical community. At the forefront of the military health system are the medical doctors who deliver unparalleled medical care to our nation’s service members, dependents, veterans, and retirees. They save lives in military hospitals and on the battlefield and battle infectious diseases around the globe. These are the men and women who make up the U.S. Medical Corps.
This article will take a look at what the Medical Corps is, which branches of the military have medical doctors, how to become a member of the medical corps, and the benefits you will receive as a member of this elite military corps.
What is the Medical Corps?
The U.S. Medical Corps is a military branch of commissioned officers responsible for the medical care of active duty, guard, reserve, dependent, veteran, and retired personnel. These officers serve in Military Treatment Facilities (MTF), field hospitals, and medical research facilities.
What branches of the Armed Forces have a Medical Corps?
Here are the military branches that have doctors assigned to the Medical Corps:
- Army Reserve
- Army National Guard
- Navy Reserve
- Air Force
- Air Force Reserve
- Air National Guard
The Army, Air Force, and Navy and their reserve components provide medical care to members of their military branches. Navy Medical Corps members provide health care for Marine Corps personnel. Health care for members of the U.S. Space Force is performed by Air Force medical personnel. The U.S. Coast Guard Coast Guard has its own health care network. They use Public Health Service (PHS) Officers to fill its medical, dental, pharmacy, environmental health, and physician assistant (PA) positions.
U.S. Army Medical Corps
The U.S. Army Medical Corps (MC) is a non-combat specialty branch of the U.S. Army Medical Department. The Medical Corps is made up of 5,000 active duty and reserve commissioned medical officers. They are assigned to military medical facilities, deployable combat units, or to military medical research and development duties. You will be considered a fully deployable soldier.
Every day there are over 40,000 clinic visits to U.S. Army medical facilities and clinics around the world. Whether you serve on active duty or maintain your practice in the community and serve when needed through the U.S. Army Reserve, as a member of the Army Medical Corps, you’ll be part of the team revolutionizing the practice of medicine.
As an Army doctor, you may serve in one of three fields – operational, clinical, or research:
- Operational Medicine. This field provides medical support to the soldier. You will work as Division, Brigade, and Battalion level doctors. You deploy with units to combat theaters for the duration. These jobs are filled mainly by primary care physicians. Specialists, like surgeons and cardiologists, usually deploy for six months.
- Clinical Medicine. This field is where you work in various medical, dental, and military treatment facilities.
- Research Medicine. This is a small field where you will conduct research in large Army Medical Centers and research institutes.
U.S. Navy Medical Corps
As a Navy physician, you will provide health care support to Navy and Marine Corps service members and their families. The Navy Medical Corps is made up of 4,300 active duty and reserve doctors who practice in 23 medical and surgical specialties.
Navy doctors are stationed to MTFs, research facilities, aboard ships, or assigned with Marine units stateside and overseas. You may also deploy in support of combat operations, humanitarian assistance missions, and disaster relief operations worldwide.
As a new physician, you will enter active duty as medical interns (PGY-1) at a Naval Hospital. Upon completion of an internship year, you may be deployed to the fleet as a General Medical Officer or in a specialty of your choice. After advanced training, you may be assigned as a Flight Surgeon or Undersea Medical Officer.
U.S. Air Force Medical Corps
The U.S. Air Force Medical Corps is made up of commissioned Air Force physicians. As a doctor in the Air Force, your experience will be much different from having a practice in the civilian world. You’ll not only be a medical doctor but also an Air Force Officer and a leader. You’ll work with patients all over the world, from small ambulatory clinics to a large medical center.
As an Air Force doctor, you’ll have access to the latest innovations in the medical field. You’ll have the chance to grow professionally through a wide range of funded educational and career-broadening opportunities.
As a member of the USAF Medical Corps, you can also become a Flight Surgeon, serving as the primary care physicians for pilots, navigators, astronauts, missile combat crews, and other aircrew members, both officer and enlisted.
How do I become a member of the U.S. Military Medical Corps?
If you have your eye on both the military and med school but can’t decide which career to choose—you don’t have to—you can do both! You can serve your country, travel the world, and be a medical professional in the U.S. military. Let’s look at the paths you can take to become a member of the U.S. Medical Corps.
The Paths to join the Medical Corps
To become a medical doctor in the military, you have three choices: The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS), the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP), and the Financial Assistance Program (FAP). Each program has advantages and disadvantages based on your personal preferences.
If you attend the USUHS, you will be in the military from the beginning. If you take the HPSP path, you will attend a civilian med school and serve in the U.S. military after graduating. Under the FAP path, you enter a civilian residency program and are a member of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). Once you graduate, you will begin your career as an O-3. Your base pay, housing allowance, and food allowance will be around $100,000 (based on the 2020 pay chart).
The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS)
The USUHS was started by Louisiana Congressman F. Edward Hébert as the “West Point for doctors.” It is located on the grounds of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. If you are accepted to the USUHS, you will be an active-duty service member, and your education will be paid for by the U.S. government. The school accepts both civilian and military applicants for commissioning into the Army, Navy, Air Force, and U.S. Public Health Service.
Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP)
The difference between USUHS and HPSP is that in the HPSP program, you get to attend any medical school you choose (you have to get accepted first). Your tuition is paid for by the U.S. Government, and you get a monthly stipend (income)! Medical training is the same as your civilian peers, but as an HPSP recipient, you have to go to a modified form of basic military training. Training usually occurs during your second year of medical school. During your third- and fourth-year clinical years, you get the chance to rotate at military hospitals if you choose.
Financial Assistance Program (FAP)
If you have already been through medical school and want to be a military doctor, you can apply for the Financial Assistance Program (FAP). Once you have been accepted into a civilian residency program, you can contact a recruiter and apply to be a member of the Medical Corps in the Army, Air Force, or Navy. FAP includes an annual grant, a monthly stipend, reimbursement for required books, equipment, and supplies, and payment of any required tuition. You will have to be eligible for military service and pass a military physical examination.
Tuition, Pay, and Benefits
Once you are enrolled in the School of Medicine, you will serve on active duty as a commissioned officer. You will serve as a Second Lieutenant in the Army or Air Force, or Ensign in the Navy, or Public Health Service. You pay no tuition or fees, plus you’ll get the full salary and benefits of an O-1 for all four years at the USUHS. Benefits include free medical care for you and your eligible family members, a housing allowance, and 30 days of paid leave each year.
Once you are accepted for the HPSP, the government will pay your tuition, provide a monthly living stipend ($2,400 per month) and reimburse you for required books, equipment, and supplies. Your stipend will be paid to you through direct deposit twice a month. You will spend 45 days each year of med school training with the military. During those periods, you’ll get the same pay and benefits as an active-duty Second Lieutenant in the Army and Air Force or an Ensign in the Navy. You also get a $20,000 signing bonus for joining the Army, Air Force, and Navy.
FAP includes an annual grant of $45,000, a monthly stipend of over $2,000, reimbursement for required books, equipment, and supplies, and payment of any required tuition. As a resident in FAP, you will be a member of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). You will not wear a uniform and you will not be subject to military deployments. You will be required to participate in one 14-day annual training period for every year you spend in the program. During your Annual Training, you will be considered an active-duty officer, and you will receive pay and benefits equal to those of a captain in the Army or Air Force or a lieutenant in the Navy.
Once you graduate, you will have a seven-year active duty service commitment. If you choose the Public Health Service, the commitment is a ten-year active duty obligation.
Since the U.S. military is paying for your med school, it’s only fair you have to pay it back—so to speak. You will pay it back through a one-to-one payback in military service. If you completed med school in four years, you are bound to be a military doctor for at least four years. Your pay and benefits after graduation will be the same as the USUHS program.
As a civilian resident physician, you can enter military service through the Financial Assistance Program (FAP). Unlike all other programs, you incur a service commitment of based on your length in the program, plus one year. For example, if you spend two years in the program, you incur a three-year service commitment.
Before enrollment, you must complete a 2 to 14-week officer orientation program (depending on the military service). During training, you’ll learn about the customs and traditions of military life to help you transition to the military. You attend this training if you have had no prior commissioned officer experience. After training, you’ll go to USUHS to start your medical education.
During your first or second year, you will complete a 2 to 14-week officer orientation program (depending on the military service). During training, you’ll learn about the customs and traditions of military life to help you transition to the military. You attend this training if you have had no prior commissioned officer experience.
When you are finished with your residency, you will complete a 2 to 14-week officer orientation program (depending on the military service). During training, you’ll learn about the customs and traditions of military life to help you transition to the military. After training, you will serve as an active-duty physician in your field of specialty.
As you can see, the U.S. Medical Corps is made up of top-notch doctors who serve as commissioned officers in the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force. They provide the best care available to active duty, reserve, dependent, veteran, and retired personnel. If you think that a career in the Medical Corps is for you, check out How to Become a Military Doctor.
Jim spent 22 years on active duty, climbing the ranks from Airman Basic to a decorated Air Force Major. Stationed all over the world, he held many high-level posts, including Chief of Foreign Military Sales at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Jim earned his Ph.D. through the Montgomery Era GI Bill and spent 13 years teaching African Studies in Pennsylvania. Jim is also an award-winning travel writer.