My friend and vet school "Big Sib" 2LT Morgan Pate, an HPSP recipient from the year before, was my commissioning officer, which made the ceremony even more special. She led me in my oath of office (pictured above). I also did the first salute and silver dollar tradition, where as a newly commissioned officer I receive my first salute from an enlisted soldier and give them a silver dollar. I asked SSG Wesley, my main recruiter, to be my first salute, which was also very special to me since he had worked so diligently with me to prepare my application. The recruiters gifted me a bunch of Army medical swag including a brand new Littman stethoscope, trauma shears, and an AMEDD patch for my uniform! They got me a cake that said "Congratulations 2LT Othman", a bowl of fresh berries, and iced tea for everyone to enjoy after the oath, which the whole recruiting office, my mom and dad, Morgan and Bryn attended (Bryn is another previous-year HPSP recipient). I cannot imagine a more wonderful and personal commissioning ceremony. I've looked forward to this day since I was a junior in high school, and the Sacramento AMEDD recruiters helped make it one of the happiest days of my life!
What is it like to be an Army veterinarian?
The Army is the branch that recruits veterinarians that may be assigned to ANY branch base. Army veterinarians are responsible for the health of the military working dogs (MWDs) and also provide veterinary care to the pets of service members. They train MWD handlers in basic field vet care. They inspect the dog kennels and training facilities, as well as other places animals reside such as classroom pet in the daycare and schools on Base, as well as horse stables, pens, and pastures on Base, where service members may elect to keep their horses. Depending on the branch and base, Army veterinarians may also provide veterinary care to the military's ceremonial horses and other working animals such as dolphins, sea lions, and falcons. Army veterinarians also write public health protocols for infectious and zoonotic disease control, and inspect food production facilities that the military may order from. Some bases have opportunities to work with exotics, wildlife, and farm animal herds. Army veterinarians initially hold the rank of Captain, leading a team of soldiers trained as veterinary technicians. Army veterinarians also do PT (physical training) during their work day and are tested periodically to meet physical fitness standards.
Some Army veterinarians work at USAMRID, the Army biomedical research facility in Maryland, or the WRAIR (Walter Reed Army Institute of Research) where some do research, some do laboratory animal medicine, and some do pathology.
One of the wonderful things about being an Army vet is that you can participate in humanitarian missions, both national and global, on short-term deployments. These range from disaster-response to vaccination and spay-neuter campaigns to developing sustainable agricultural systems in communities with limited resources.
There are many opportunities to further your education through the Army, who will sponsor you to complete veterinary medical residencies, MPH or MPVM, or MS or PhD training. These opportunities do require additional years of service as payback. Completing advanced medical training helps you rise to the rank of Major.
What is the HPSP program?
The Health Professionals Scholarship Program (HPSP) is a 3-year full-tuition scholarship for veterinary students attending an AVMA-accredited school. Awardees commission as second lieutenants (2LT), which they remain during veterinary school. HPSP also includes an approximately $2,000/month stipend for 10.5 months of the year to cover housing and other living expenses. During school, Active Duty Training (ADT) weeks are required, but these never conflict with the school schedule and are essentially paid externships during your fourth/clinical year. You will take the Direct Commissioning Course (DCC) at Fort Sill, OK during the summer between your 2nd and 3rd year of vet school and Basic Officer Leadership Course (BOLC) after graduation.
Upon graduation, you will be swiftly promoted to the rank of captain (CPT) and attend BOLC in Fort Sam Houston, TX. Then, there are two veterinary-specific trainings to do before your first assignment: Vet Track and FYGVE (First Year Graduate Veterinary Education) at an Army base where you get up to speed on being an Army veterinarian under supervision of a seasoned Army veterinarian. Finally, you start your first assignment. All this pre-assignment training counts towards 1 year of reserve service (even though you get active duty pay!), so you'll have 7 years service commitment to go at the start your first assignment. The service commitment is a total of 8 years with minimum 3 years Active Duty Obligation (ADO) and maximum of 5 years Reserve Service Obligation (RSO).
How do you apply for the HPSP scholarship?
The application is approximately a year-long process that can begin as early as the day you accept an admission offer from a veterinary school, which for many vet students, means as early as the April before you start vet school. Your application packet should be completed and submitted for review by the board by the end of December. Expect to hear back around March and commission in April if you are a lucky recipient.
Your application is handled and prepared by an AMEDD Recruiter, which is DIFFERENT from general recruiters who recruit enlisted soldiers. You'll need to locate the AMEDD recruiting office closest to you to find your recruiter, which you can do using the "locate your recruiter" function on the AMEDD website (see end of article for links).
The application process is extensive and time-consuming. The following are required: health screening through MEPS, physical fitness assessment (OPAT), statement of motivation (1 page personal statement essay), college and veterinary school transcripts, 3-5 letters of recommendation, character references, legal history/criminal record, rental history, work history, fingerprinting, and background checks. I can assure you that application process will be more intensive and complicated than anything else you've ever applied for!
Is it competitive?
Yes. This year (2017), about 30 veterinary students in the entire country were awarded the scholarship out of over 100 applicants. The program does NOT have any kind of "per-school" quota.
What can I do to make myself stand out?
Outstanding letters of recommendation and a strong personal statement are key. Having previous experience with the military helps a lot, as does having relatives in the military, and letters of recommendation from people with military history. Get excellent grades. Practice being an effective leader, for example, of clubs or of employees. Starting your application as early as possible really helps: the process is lengthy, time consuming, and complicated. Give yourself as much time as possible to work on it.
What would disqualify me from completing an application?
Are there any other options to be a veterinarian in the military?
If you are not sure you want to go for the HPSP program, there are other options to consider. You can try to join after graduation (but note that the majority of active duty Army veterinarians come from the HPSP program). Other options are to join the Army Reserve as a veterinarian or to work as a civilian employee at a Base veterinary clinic.
The Air Force also recruits veterinary students for their own public health program. They offer a scholarship similar to HPSP, but you go through the Air Force recruiters, and it is a 100% public health position. This program does NOT involve clinical medicine or hands-on-dogs.
Here are some useful links:
Anything else I should know?
While the financial incentive is very attractive, it is not the only reason you should consider applying for the HPSP scholarship. The payback is 8 years-- make sure you will be happy during those 8 years. Talk to as many military health professionals and military servicemembers as you can to get an idea of what the military lifestyle is like and if it suits you, and learn as much as you can about the roles and responsibilities of an Army veterinarian.