JAANUU » Here’s How to Become a Military Surgeon

Here’s How to Become a Military Surgeon

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Do you know what connects medical officers and military soldiers? They both serve their communities. They go the extra mile to protect their people. Some healthcare professionals also accompany military troops to combat zones. They’re called military doctors. 

Military physicians, who have also commissioned officers, work in armed force medical facilities, war zones, and conflict areas. Some even get deployed and serve on active duty. 

Military doctors are jacks of all trades. They jump in to help during emergencies and work flexibly across different specialization areas. During deployment, a military doctor who practices as a generalist at home may have to act as a surgeon. In other words, these doctors must know enough about various specializations to play a range of roles when needed. 

Even while military doctors train to work in the field, their preparedness doesn’t underscore the difficulty of fieldwork. When deployed, military physicians provide medical care in dangerous or under-resourced settings. Despite their bravery, ingenuity, and hard work, military doctors earn less than their civilian peers. 

But with great sacrifice comes great reward. Military physicians save lives, treat veterans, and form part of a community of like-minded individuals who put the well-being of others before their own. They even enjoy a few “lighter” perks. Many attend medical school for free and their job allows them to see the world.  

If you want to serve others as a doctor and “be all you can be,” read on to learn how to become a military physician, what to expect from the career, and how much you’ll earn. 

How to become a military doctor 


You can either take the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) or attend the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) to become a military doctor. Here are the details:

Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP)

This scholarship rewards those pursuing a career as a military doctor with free tuition and a monthly stipend. Accepted medical students take basic military training, study their coursework, and do rotations at military hospitals. Recipients can use the HPSP at any medical school, but upon graduating, they must become military doctors for at least the same number of years they were in med school. 

Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS)

The USUHS is a military medical school located at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and the top research center for the armed forces. All accepted students become active duty service members, and the government rewards them with free tuition. Applicants may be civilians or enlisted military members, and all graduates must serve for seven years.

What do military doctors do?

Military doctors provide direct patient care, much as their civilian counterparts. The key differences are where and how military physicians perform this work. 

Armed force doctors work on military bases, aboard aircraft carriers and at the army, air force, and navy hospitals. They’re deployed to war zones, public health crisis areas, and natural disaster sites. This means these doctors provide healthcare services during wars, on humanitarian missions, and, when not deployed, at home. 

How many years to become a military doctor

Since military doctors must receive the same level of medical education as their civilian peers, the number of years of schooling and educational pathway are the same. Here are the key phases of medical training and how long each takes:

  • Undergraduate degree (a pre-med program is a great start): Four years
  • Medical degree: Four years
  • Residency: Three to seven years 

In total, military physicians study for a minimum of 11 years. Depending on whether they’re participating in the armed forces at the time, some of their extracurriculars may be pretty extreme, like learning to fly fighter jets. 

In addition to medical education, aspirants must be U.S. citizens (ages 21-64) and committed to at least two years of active duty service.

How much do military doctors get paid?

A military doctor’s salary is lower than that of a civilian physician. The base pay of military doctors is around $150,000 annually, which moves up to $200,000, depending on their rank. In addition to their base salary, they may earn hazard pay and specialty bonuses.

While civilian doctors earn much more, they likely have student debt. Military doctors who take advantage of the HPSP scholarship or train at the USUHS don’t owe a dime upon graduation.  


Becoming a military surgeon

The role of a military physician isn’t for everyone. It’s an enormous responsibility. It’s for individuals with an adventurous spirit, a sense of duty to their country, and a commitment to helping others even when the living and working conditions are dangerous or uncomfortable. Military doctors’ lives look a lot different from those of their civilian peers. Besides having to operate in risky environments, armed force doctors may choose where they live or their medical specialty. 

Before considering this career path, think about the future you want for yourself and if it aligns with this type of work setting. 


Do military doctors go to war?

Military doctors deploy for several reasons, including supporting and accompanying military personnel in combat zones. However, physicians serve in non-combat roles. 

What is a military doctor called?

Military doctors are often called “surgeons,” even if surgery isn’t their specialty. Dive medicine physicians, for example, can be called “dive surgeons.” 

Can a military doctor become a civilian doctor?

Since military doctors are licensed physicians who attended medical school and residency, they have the same credentials as civilian doctors. These medical professionals can ostensibly transition to a civilian role if they maintain an active license to practice from their state. The reverse is also true. Civilian doctors who are U.S. citizens can work for the armed forces. They can get their start through the Civilian Corps of the United States Army Medical Command (MEDCOM).
Military medics, nurses, and doctors, we salute you! At Jaanuu, we admire your dedication to your country, your bravery, and the sacrifices you make, and we thank you greatly for your service.

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