What does it take to become an Air Force Surgeon? Those interested in a career in military medicine should definitely investigate the Air Force’s program to recruit doctors as there are plenty of options for education, training, and commissioning.
Air Force Medicine Basics
To become an Air Force surgeon or any other type of military doctor, you must attend medical school and become a commissioned officer. The Air Force features commissioning programs that can pay or help pay for medical training.
Those who have not joined the military yet will want to consider ROTC or Air Force medical commissioning programs that include scholarships (see below).
Becoming An Air Force Surgeon Right Out Of High School
The Air Force Recruiting official site advises those interested in joining the military right out of high school that the road to an Air Force Doctor or Air Force Surgeon job is a winding one. Those enlisting and shipping out from high school are eligible to be placed in medical jobs, but in an enlisted capacity only:
“None of these enlisted roles lead directly to medical school or a medical degree. To become an Air Force Doctor, you must first complete an undergraduate college degree in pre-medicine”.
The official site adds that Air Force ROTC and the Air Force Academy may have financial help available in this area. There are also scholarship programs the Air Force advertises that do not require attendance at a military academy.
AF.mil adds that in order to be accepted into such a program, “Applicants must be accepted to or enrolled in a medical school accredited by either the Association of American Medical Colleges (MD schools) or American Osteopathic Association (DO schools) located within the continental US, Hawaii, Alaska or Puerto Rico”.
For Those Currently Serving
Those currently serving should discuss cross-training opportunities with their base personnel office, unit orderly room, First Individual, etc. Some career fields may not let their members cross train due to mission-critical duties, others may permit cross training without objection.
Only commissioned officers may perform advanced medical care such as surgery–enlisted members interested in careers in military medicine will need to pursue becoming an officer and meet the required education and training for both officers and medical personnel. Some programs do both at once, others may not.
These programs include, but may not be limited to the following–each program requires a commitment to military service as a condition of acceptance into the program.
What follows is not exclusive to those who wish to become Air Force surgeons but those interested in this career path should know all of these options and select the one that best matches current need, anticipated courses of study, and Air Force career goals.
Air Force Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP)
This is a major Air Force program that helps those interested in a variety of Air Force medicine careers by offering three and four year scholarships for medical corps and dental corps applicants. There are also shorter programs aimed at those interested in what the Air Force official site terms “Allied Health” specialties including:
- Clinical psychologists
- Public health officers
HPSP scholarships cover all tuition and required fees, including textbooks and equipment. Those accepted into the program also qualify for a monthly allowance for living expenses.
Those who attend medical school under this program are required to spend 45 days of Air Force active duty. Those who graduate from the program must commit to one year of active duty, full-time military service for each year of their scholarship program with a three-year minimum commitment.
Who can apply for HPSP? Those who meet all the following requirements:
- Must be a U.S. citizen.
- Must be accepted to or enrolled in a medical school accredited by either the Association of American Medical Colleges or American Osteopathic Association located within the continental US, Hawaii, Alaska or Puerto Rico.
- Must be physically qualified for commissioning as an Air Force officer.
- At application time you must have a minimum 3.2 undergraduate GPA.
- At application time you must have a 500 MCAT with a minimum score of 124 on each MCAT subsection.
Timing of the application can be important. In general expect to apply under the following guidelines unless otherwise instructed–four year scholarship applicants should apply in the fall the year prior to medical school. Those attending medical school interested in applying for three-year scholarships “should apply immediately” according to Air Force literature.
HPSP scholarships are awarded “on a rolling basis”; apply early for best results.
Air Force Financial Aid For Medical Residencies
There is an option called the Air Force Financial Assistance Program (FAP) which is aimed at those who need to complete their medical residencies. FAP offers “more than $45,000 for every year you participate in the program” (as published in 2021, this amount is subject to change) as well as an additional $2,000 a month for living expenses.
Each year you receive payments under this program you are required to commit an equal amount of time in uniform, plus one additional year on top of that.
Air Force Graduate Medical Education Residencies And Fellowships
The Air Force Additional Graduate Medical Education (GME) program offers residencies and fellowships for many medical specialties, and “nearly all” residency options are affiliated with non-military campuses in nine different locations.
To be considered for this program, HPSP students must apply to the Joint Service Graduate Medical Education Selection Board (JSGMESB) at the beginning of their final year of medical school.