As my lovely wife just pointed out on her blog, we have been considering the Air Force Health Professionals Scholarship Program and, in fact, are a good ways through the application process. Since I've never been the gung ho military type, some of y'all may be wondering why we have decided to take this path. Below is a somewhat rambling explanation of our thoughts regarding this decision. Enjoy:
1) Katie and I love to travel and this is by far the best (and most affordable) way to see the country and the world while we're young. We'll have the opportunity to live overseas as well as participate in humanitarian projects that we wouldn't be able to otherwise if I was in a civilian practice.
2) Starting my medical career in the Air Force assures a ready, compliant patient base for me to serve without the additional constraints of civilian practices. Specifically, I won't have to worry about my patients' ability to pay for a treatment, or deal with pressure from hospital administrators or other docs in my practice to sacrifice quality of care to ensure profits.
3) In addition to paying for medical school (tuition and fees), and receiving a monthly stipend, the pay upon graduation is very comparable and in many instances better than that of civilian practice. Air Force residency programs pay roughly $20,000 more than civilian residencies and then include housing and food stipends, and health, dental, and malpractice insurance provided and it's not even close. Upon completing residency (when my payback time would officially start), the comparability of pay is very much dependent on specialty. If I end up going into Family Medicine (which is my current and strongest inclination), the salary is almost identical (not including the above mentioned perks as well). If I were going into a more specialized field, the salary disparity is much greater.
4) One of our Clinical Skills instructors who is a family doc in the area and served in the Navy after completing medical school said he figured he would have a debt of money or a debt of time upon finishing school. The time he could payback in a one year-to-one year ratio, however, a financial debt would linger with him for 10-20 years. Being debt free will allow Katie and I to meet financial goals we have set earlier and focus on various humanitarian projects etc. that we wish to accomplish with financial blessings that come our way.
5) The opportunity to serve those who have served and are serving our country in the military is an unbelievably humbling prospect and one that I will cherish and give 100% if selected.
Now there are, of course, potential drawbacks that have been mulled over, weighed, and prayed about.
1) Getting placed somewhere we don't want to go. This is unlikely, but is a possiblity. After completing residency, we will get to choose our top 8 bases to be stationed. Again, what specialty I am in will affect this as the Air Force has different needs in different areas, but everywhere is in need of family physicians. From the top 8, most folks get one of their top two. Additionally, how often do you really have the autonomy to choose where you will live and practice? No matter what your job is, or what you are studying, you have to go where the job/school is located. This is just a fact of life.
2) Deployment is a reality, and as an Air Force doctor, I could be deployed a maximum of 4 months at a time. However, following a deployment, I can't be deployed again for 18 months. In a three or four year payback, this is a maximum of one to two deployments. Additionally, a deployment could just as likely be to a hurricane damaged region as to a forward operating base. Again, the Air Force isn't normally on the front lines of conflicts. They're the guys that fly in and drop bombs, without a ground presence like the Army or being water bound like the Navy.
It's important to note, as well, that any deployment wouldn't be required of me until I've completed my residency training (i.e. at least 6-7 years from now).
OK that was pretty long and I'm sure I've left some stuff out and did not articulate all of it well, but hopefully that brings anyone out there wondering up to speed. Don't worry, we'll keep you posted!