This is a guest post written by Keith Roxo, a graduate of both the Naval Academy and Top Gun (yes, that Top Gun) who will be starting medical school at USUHS this fall.
The Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) is relatively well known among medical school applicants, if not always well understood. Another program where the Navy will help pay for your medical education is the less well known Health Services Collegiate Program (HSCP). This blog post will shed some light on HSCP so that you may determine if it is a good choice for you or not.
Will the Navy Pay for Medical School?
The first thing you need to know is that while the Army, Navy, and Air Force all have HPSP, only the Navy offers HSCP. This could be a deal killer for you if you had your heart set on Army or Air Force. The current Navy environment is one that makes it difficult to train straight through residency upon completion of medical school for those looking at more competitive specialties. This is something that must be considered when choosing a path with the Navy. It is fine to strive to train straight through, but one should not get terribly upset if they end up having to do a GMO tour prior to residency training as you need to understand and accept that possibility before signing on with the Navy.
My own personal belief is that using the military to fund your medical school education is not necessarily the best financial move anyway so it should mean that you want to serve in the military. Doing a GMO tour might delay your residency training, but it will give you exposure to other aspects of the service you might otherwise be sheltered from.
HPSP vs HSCP
- You are a commissioned officer in the reserves during medical school
- The Navy (or other service) pays your full tuition and fees, including health insurance if required
- The Navy (or other service) pays you a stipend (currently $2088 per month) plus 45 days of Annual Training paid at 0-1 but you also get Save Pay if you have prior commissioned service prior to medical school.
- You then owe 4 years of active duty service.
- Years in medical school don't count toward active duty retirement, but you do get to count the 6 months of training time toward a reserve retirement
- You are enlisted on active duty during medical school (you become an officer after med school)
- The Navy does NOT pay tuition or fees.
- The Navy pays you as an officer candidate first class (E-6 with less than 2 years in service). This is currently ~$4200 a month when you include tax-free Basic Allowance for Housing and Basic Allowance for Subsistence. You also get the standard full medical, dental, vision, and disabililty benefits since you're on active duty. If you were previously an officer, E-7 or higher, or if you recruit someone else into the program, you get paid one grade higher. You do not get Save Pay, however.
- You owe the same 4 years of active duty service afterward.
- Years in medical school DO count toward an active duty retirement.
- There are no requirements for active duty tours during medical school. However, you do have to pass a fitness test twice a year.
- You are eligible for Serviceman's Group Life Insurance (SGLI) and the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), and since you have earned income, you can also contribute to a Roth IRA during med school (and possibly even qualify for the retirement savings credit.)
- Despite being on active duty, the military won't pay your moving expenses as you move to your medical school.
The biggest advantages are that your time in med school counts towards retirement and you get paid a lot more than you would in the HPSP program. The biggest disadvantage is that you're responsible for your own tuition and fees.
HPSP vs HSCP – Which Is Right For You?
So how can you determine if HSCP is a good program for you or not? First we assume that you are interested in being a Navy physician. [Editor's note: This is not a step to quickly gloss over. While there are real opportunities in military medicine, the downsides weigh heavily on many physicians and should be thoroughly understood prior to signing up, particularly the quirks of the military match.]
The next step is to do a financial analysis. If you have no prior military service, no 529 funds available, and no other personal scholarships then all you have is your annual salary. If you are attending a private school with tuition of $45,000 and a total cost of attendance around $70,000 with living expenses, then HSCP will fall short and you will still need to borrow in the form of student loans. In this scenario HPSP would be a better option. If you are attending a very inexpensive state school and living at home with your family then this is possibly a very good option. Especially if you have other funds to defray school costs such as a 529 fund.
Where HSCP has the potential to shine is with people who have prior military service and the Post 9/11 GI Bill (remember that ROTC and service academy graduates do not get credit for the Post 9/11 GI Bill until after they have already served their original active duty service obligation). By having prior service you will be paid according to your time in service and E-7 and up will also start at the higher pay grade of E-7. If going to your own state school the GI Bill will cover just over three years of medical school completely. The reason it does not cover all of med school is because the Post 9/11 GI Bill covers 36 months of benefits since it was originally designed to provide for a four year undergrad degree. They only run nine months per year whereas medical school tends to run year round with only that first summer off. It should not be a problem to fund the remaining gap out of your available income; you could even self fund a 529 leading up to the time you have to pay out of pocket.
At a more expensive school, especially one without the Yellow Ribbon program, it becomes less favorable. Having said that, you still are building years towards the military retirement that you would not get via HPSP. With previous time, credit for time at med school, GME and payback you are at or very near an active duty retirement. Also, if you have contributed to your TSP over the years you may borrow from that to defray the cost of school and pay yourself back at a lower interest rate than you would pay for traditional student loans.
Some other things to consider: HSCP is less competitive since it is less well known and not as financially worthwhile compared to HPSP for most civilian students entering medical school. Because you are on active duty you will not be able to receive the monthly housing allowance associated with the GI Bill. If you are already on active duty and looking at medical school I would highly recommend becoming a resident of a state with multiple state medical schools such as Florida or Texas if you are able. Not only are those states free of income tax, you typically have a better chance at getting in to your state school and you would qualify for in state tuition which is more favorable for the GI Bill.
In the end, financial matters are not always the most important, but it is important to understand all available options so you can make the most informed decision possible. HSCP may not be very good for some people, but can be an excellent choice for others.
Editor's Note: This program is beneficial for a very small subset of military physicians who are similar to the guest poster: those who want to be Navy physicians, have prior service, and plan to stay in until retirement. With 4 years of prior service, 4 years of medical school, a year of internship, 4 years of GMO time, 3 years of residency, and 4 years of payback time, the Navy Physician would already qualify for a lucrative active duty retirement. Attending an inexpensive school would sweeten the deal even more. A more traditional medical student without prior service, especially one who isn't sure he would want to stay until retirement, is almost surely better with the HPSP program. It should be noted that attending USUHS, the military medical school, may be an even better deal for both those with prior service and those without it. You can also sign up with the military as a resident (via the FAP program) or as an attending. The financial benefits tend to be less, but you do get to avoid the military match process.