Can I Match Into a Competitive Surgical Specialty with HPSP?

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ADG 186: Can I Match Into a Competitive Surgical Specialty with HPSP?

Session 186

Our student today has a question about how realistic it is to Match into a competitive specialty if he accepts the HPSP scholarship. We talk about the pros and cons.

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[00:21] Question of the Day

Q: “I’m applying to HPSP right now. What are the odds of me matching into a competitive residency for specialties that are more difficult to get into even in the civilian fields? Especially neuro ortho or any kind of surgery?”

A: It’s going to be just like the civilian world where it’s going to be competitive. That being said, maybe it’s not the right question to ask.

The first question to ask is, do you want to be in the military as a doctor? If the answer is yes, then you figure it out as you go, understanding that you may not get the specialty that you want, at least the first time that you apply. And you’ll be okay with that because you want to be in the military. And that’s the route you’re going.

The question typically stems from students who do HPSP to pay for medical school. They don’t really want to be in the military, but want to have the benefits of not having any debt. And so, they are more concerned about your career than the military.

If you’re more concerned about your career, then you have to tread carefully going the HPSP route because it’s not in your control.

Applying to residency as a civilian if you didn’t do HPSP isn’t fully in your control, either. But there are a lot more options in terms of numbers of programs and numbers of spots available. So theoretically, it increases your chances of getting into one of those spots.

[02:25] Matching Into Residency

Q: What are the options if I weren’t to match into my first choice of residency? I know about your background, as a flight surgeon. So what would those duties entail?

A: You’d be working as a doctor as a flight surgeon so you’d be taking care of pilots and their families, depending on the base you’re at. You’re a preventive medicine doctor, an occupational health doctor, and you are a family practice doctor without going through family practice residency. You basically do it all, which is pretty awesome.

Q: Would I have odds of matching into competitive civilian residency after serving as a general medical officer?

A: The goal would be to stay involved in whatever career you’re interested in. Stay involved in research, if you can do that, because research is a huge part of residency applications. Stay networked and connected to residency program directors or anyone involved in residencies. And if you did your time and got out and then applied for residency, that’s perfectly fine.

'The goal of HPSP isn't to just get free medical school, it's to go and serve as a military doc. And if that sounds appealing to you, then you just figure out the rest.”Click To Tweet

Q: I have applied both to the Army and the Navy HPSP. Is there a particular branch you would recommend for any particular reason? To me, it seems like there are more options with the Army and Navy than the Air Force. I don’t know how accurate that is.

A: It just depends on what residency you’re looking at. Don’t put the cart before the horse though. The Army is very different from the Air Force and it is very different from the Navy. And you’re looking at it from you wanting to be an orthopedic surgeon and so you want to pick the best for that.

[08:12] Key Questions to Ask Yourself

You’re thinking about specialty right now as a premed student, and trying to dictate your path to a specialty that you may change your mind at.

Instead, the question you should be asking yourself is what is the next decision that I need to make that will affect me as a person right now? That first decision is either signing up for the military or not and applying for an HPSP scholarship or not.

Question #1: Do you want to be in the military? That is the first question. And not because they’ll pay for medical school but because you want to serve in the military.

Question #2: Do you want to be a doctor in the military?

Question #3: Which branch of the military do you want to be in without thinking about specialty? 

Do you want to be in the Navy, the Army, or the Air Force? Or you may want to go to the Veterans Affairs which has an HPSP scholarship right now. You’re not really serving in the military, and you just go to the VA afterwards. Assuming the Army, Navy, Air Force are the three options without worrying about residency, which branch do you want to be in?

Question #4: What does [specialty] in these three look like?

Being an orthopedic surgeon in the Navy is different than being an orthopedic surgeon in the Army is different than being an orthopedic surgeon in the Air Force. Obviously, the surgeries that you’re doing are going to be the same. But where you’re doing it and your lifestyle could be completely different with all of them.

'The number one question that nobody asks themselves these days is – What do I want? What do I want as a human being? And then make decisions from there.'Click To Tweet

Understand that as you progress, you’re trying to figure out what you want to do with your life. But  don’t let that dictate everything else along the way.

[12:14] Leadership Training vs. Academics

Q: My recruiters for the Army and the Navy told me about some of the leadership training for both. How do I find the balance between the military training aspect of it and the academic medical side of it?

A: You don’t because you do what you’re required to do. You don’t because you do what you’re required to do. Between M1 and M2 is your last summer break at most medical schools. And so the military is assuming that you’re going to a medical school that’s going to have that break. They’re going to have planned training for you during that time.

You may go to a medical school that doesn’t have a summer between M1 and M2. And the military will then decide to have you go through the training once you’re done. So there’s really nothing to balance.

[15:06] Final Thoughts

Think about yourself and what you really want. A lot of students are making decisions based on some theories around what would be the best avenue for that specialty. Then they get to medical school and they realize they don’t want the specialty anymore. And they went down that path because of the specialty.

Your hopes and desires and dreams may change too, but at least you’re making decisions for yourself, first and foremost. That may change and that’s okay. But that makes you better equipped to handle the ramifications because you made the decisions based on the best evidence that you had at the time. It’s based on what you wanted, and not some game that you’re trying to play.


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