This piece first aired in July, 2010, as part of the show, “Passport Troubles”
- Host Intro: In the current economic climate, paying for medical school is a daunting task for anyone. For most, the opportunity to graduate debt-free and even receive a stipend for living expenses is a hard one to pass up. But what if it comes at the price of a minimum of 4 years of active military service? That’s the premise of the Health Professions Scholarship Program. Kyle Crawford has more.
KYLE CRAWFORD: Since 1973 the Health Professions Scholarship Program or HPSP has been an option for medical students wanting to pursue a career as a military physician. Emily Crawford and I spoke to 3 med school students who have received the scholarship:
AMINA MOGHUL: My name is Amina Moghul. I’m currently a 3rd year medical student.
KELLY SIANO: My name is Kelly Siano and I am from Fort Collins, Colorado. I just finished my 3rd of 4 years of medical school.
TIMOTHY GOCKE: My name is Timothy Gocke…I am currently going to be beginning my first year at PComm and I am an HPSP acceptance for the U.S army.
KYLE CRAWFORD: Kelly Siano confirms that yes, the prospect of attending medical school for free is a huge draw for the program:
KELLY SIANO: The financial part of it is really appealing. A lot of people are really strapped with debt in medical school these days. And I see it in my classmates. It affects their decisions about specialties and the way that they are going to practice.
KYLE CRAWFORD: The financial package that this scholarship offers is indeed tempting. Major Leon Hooten, an HPSP recruiter, outlines the basic requirements and compensation that come with the scholarship:
MAJOR LEON HOOTEN: For the HPSP Scholarship, that’s the active duty option, if you’re accepted to Med school you’ll get a full ride to any accredited med school, MD or DO, in the country, you’ll also have a $20,000 upfront signing bonus signing bonus as well as about $2,000 given to you 10 1/2 months of the year. The other 6 months of the year you’re on active duty for training as a 2nd lieutenant so you’re making approximately $6,000 or so. So when you add all that up over the course of 4 years of medical school you’re looking at about 125 thousand, something like that.
KYLE CRAWFORD: However, accepting an HPSP scholarship is a major commitment, and money alone is not motivation enough to make it worthwhile. The possibility – and even likelihood, given today’s political climate – of being deployed demands of scholarship recipients a willingness to serve one’s country at the expense of personal comfort and safety. Timothy Gocke expresses his feelings about the prospect of being deployed:
TIMOTHY GOCKE: Nobody really wants a war but if you can go and do some pretty good things. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was nervous about the prospect of going there and but that is my duty and that is something I have come to accept and if that is something they choose to do then that is something I am happy to pack my bags and send me on my way I guess.
KYLE CRAWFORD: While all three scholarship recipients express some level of anxiety about being deployed to a conflict zone, they all seem to have come to terms with the possibility. Siano explains her thought process:
KELLYS SIANO: I think most people just aren’t sure what it is going to be like. They might have patches of doubt. But one of the neat things about the military is that it is sort of like in a lot of ways is the optimal ways to practice medicine. Not a lot of malpractice, lots of resources, your patients are compliant and they have access to resources so I think ultimately people enjoy their experiences. Medically its very rewarding and you learn a lot.
KYLE CRAWFORD: For many, the monetary compensation that the program offers is only a bonus that comes with a career that they would have found appealing anyway. Moghul explains that she had always entertained thoughts of working in the military:
AMINA MOGHUL: Maybe it was because I played with little green plastic men, I have no clue. I don’t know, I think I just always saw the parades and stuff on TV and stuff like that and I loved seeing soldiers lined up and marching crisp uniforms and stuff like that and it is so buried in tradition the army is just it’s been around as long as our country has been around. Maybe it was the fact that July 4th was my favorite holiday or something. I’m a little patriot at heart … I think it was just my calling, you know?
KYLE CRAWFORD: For her, the ability to combine her desire to become a doctor with the appeal that the military holds for her is an ideal situation. Gocke, however, expressed some concern that while he is comfortable with the idea of military life now, the future may hold new complications:
TIMOTHY GOCKE: What if I have a family what if I have, what if they deploy me in some awful place. These are unknowns that you know no one knows the answer. There is a good chance by the time I’m finished medical school finished my training, we’ll be out of this war and into a different one.
KYLE CRAWFORD: The prospect of becoming directly involved in a war, either current or future, is on the mind of all three med students. However, as Moghul points out, their role in any war will most likely remain a strictly medical one:
AMINA MOGHUL: No, I honestly can’t even say I have an opinion on the war other than I trust that our troops are doing the right thing. As a doctor is a little different in my opinion. My opinion doesn’t matter politically as someone who is on the front lines so to speak, or who is in the infantry for example. My job no matter where I’m doing it and when I’m doing it and who I’m taking care of is to take care of other people’s lives and whether those people are civilians or soldiers I’m going to do my job.
KYLE CRAWFORD: Attitudes towards the US Army and the current wars aside, interest in military healthcare careers has increased noticeably in recent years. Major Hooten speculates as to why this might be:
MAJOR LEON HOOTEN: I would say that there are some ebbs and flows to it, but definitely in past couple of years. I don’t know if it’s the perception of a new administration among students, I don’t know if it’s the availability of credit not being what it once was, or the fact that students loans are now charged a forbearance vs. interest-free for the rest of residency. But yeah, there’s definitely been much more interest the past couple of years.
KYLE CRAWFORD: These three med-students are all on the path to becoming military physicians, but their futures are certainly far from clear. Each is still unsure of their speciality, where they will do their residency and if they will be deployed. But what is certain is that each is looking forward to what their medical and military careers will bring them.
For War News Radio with Emily Crawford, I’m Kyle Crawford.