When I say this last year has been a whirlwind, I don’t mean it lightly.
So. Much. Has. Happened.
Years prior were so so busy, but a culmination of events took place all in a row at this time last year, and it just felt good to check a few accomplishments off the list. One of the biggest anniversaries personally I’m celebrating, is that of a decision I made that not only alleviated a bit of present-stress, but will impact my future in a major way.
I’ve had the fortune of mentoring a few pre-dents, and have been in touch with a few through social media who have also reached out with interest and questions, so I decided it was time to take this out of the drafts pile and put my experience out into the world.
One year ago,
I commissioned as an army officer in the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP), and I’m thankful for it every day. It’s the reason I’m able to attend school as my sole focus, it pays my bills, and it has brought together a cool little community which will soon become so much larger.
So first off, I am going to be clear that I am in no way an expert, I am a scholarship recipient in the program. All information I provide is strictly what I have obtained while researching, applying for, and receiving the scholarship. For more direction and up-to-date information please contact a recruiter.
Out of convenience, Im linking the website for HPSP here, go check it out!
Now, what is HPSP?
Basically, it’s a scholarship program for health professional programs (dentistry, pharmacy, medicine, nursing, etc). There are a few types awarded, either 4year, 3year, or 2year, depending on the branch. The scholarship pays for all tuition, fees, and supplies for the number of years you’re awarded the scholarship. You’re also given a pretty living stipend so that you do not have to work an outside job or take out loans during professional school. In return you work for the military on a base for the same number of years your schooling was paid for. At the end of the day, in tuition alone, the Army will cover over $360,000.00 worth of tuition for me in return for my service. Beyond that, they have already covered a variety of medical appointments this year completely driven by their instruction, and they have covered books and supplies I needed to get through this year of dental school.
While I commissioned a year ago, this all actually started four years ago. As you know, I like to do my research before jumping into anything, and that’s exactly what I did. You do NOT need to do what I did, but at least do research before you make such a life-changing decision for yourself.
As for my story,
I attended a lot of Sim-clinics and pre-dental seminars in undergrad. I was also in many clubs, including a few pre-dental, and pre- health societies, and out of all of the above I ended up attending a handful of presentations by military recruiters offering info on the HPSP program. I grabbed info at each presentation, and I asked a ton of questions. I personally thought it was too good to be true, but over time as I attended I learned to ask more detailed questions and slowly began to learn more about the reality of the program and it was very appealing for me and my lifestyle. By the time I was a junior, I decided it was time to reach out and set up one-on-one meetings with each branch.
At earlier meetings when I had spoke with each branch I felt that I had a good pile of information, and I also sought out students actually in HPSP for each branch, so at that time I was unbiased as to which branch to apply for as long as they would take me.
The initial reason I ended up in the Army could be that I caught a recruiter the first time I called and they set up the meeting first. It took quite a bit of time to hear back from the other branches and there is one branch that never returned any of my calls, messages, and emails, but I took it as a sign that I may not want to work with that either. My army recruiter was swift to answer questions, they made life easier by coming to me for meetings. Later it extended beyond convenience as to why I withdrew from other branches. I ran into some difficulties on my application, and it ended up being a blessing that the recruiter I was working with knew immediately what to do to keep me pushing through. It was good timing, and a good recruiter that became key to receiving the scholarship. It was also a lifestyle choice that kept me pursuing this branch. Il explain in a minute.
First, lets just be clear that I am in the Army, I live in Nebraska (so this is where I applied and prepared for it), and I received the 4 year scholarship. Different scholarship application paths will look different, but here’s my story.
I started early, and would also recommend this.
Before I had even taken my DAT or applied to dental schools, I was on the phone to the recruiters. I figured that I would do everything in my power to be ahead of the game and ready if anything were to be delayed.
In early spring of my junior year, I reached out to all of the branches. Within a couple of weeks I was in meetings to learn more about how the scholarship would work, and to identify if I would be a good candidate. I made my decision to commit to pursuing the Army, then I filled out information on my health history. I was upfront about everything in my medical history from the get-go so that they knew all potential roadblocks that could come up.
Yes, all military branches are still just as concerned about health as they would be if you were being recruited as a soldier. However, it is also clear that we are not going into the military to be in combat, we are joining as health professionals, and will be working as officers in our designated career field instead. So, with that being said, there is some leniency to medical history.
I gathered health histories from all previous doctors, provided a few documents, signed a few papers, and at that point I had not yet even taken my DAT or applied to dental schools, so we waited.
There are requirements for receiving the scholarship, which you should be aware of going into this. Each branch varies, and you need to contact your recruiter for your specific requirements. However, it was good to know because it gave me a ballpark for my DAT. I knew what I needed to be competitive for applying to schools, and the Army requirement was within that range, so I felt confident I could reach both. I was then able to surpass the goal, which made it a good anchor for my application.
You will also be required to submit letters of recommendation and write a personal statement, so I gathered those while preparing for the DAT. After the DAT, I hit submit on my dental school applications, and sent all the information to my recruiter, who set me up for medical screenings and I checked a few more requirements off the list. I then completed my application and moved forward with another wait. When I got into dental schools on december 1st, I sent in my acceptance letters. When I made my school decision, I sent in another paper stating where I would be attending. Then I waited as patiently as I could, which involved a little anxiety, but in January I got the call while walking out of class one afternoon and it was the happiest news I had heard in a LONG while.
In May, my mother and fiance met me at the office for my commissioning ceremony. I walked away as a 2nd Lieutenant for the US Army, and relief that I wouldn’t have to bear the burden of hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. I also knew I had a guaranteed job after graduation and it silenced the questions that I had been worrying about for so long.
If you’re considering applying and want to learn more, here are some tips I can offer.
-First and foremost, talk to some recruiters.
Get a feel for if the program will be right for you.
-Ask yourself what your plans are for paying for school, and look at all the options out there. Also ask what your plans may be after school, and if this is an avenue that can be explored. For me, I am now married and I took my husband into account for this. We made the decision together. I do not know yet where I will be stationed, but the majority of Army bases also happen to be near facilities where my husband can transfer to for his employment.
-Get a jump on this early. It’s never too early to do so. Even if its just to find out requirements for GPA/DAT, get prepared so you can be ahead of the game and not scrambling against a time constraint.
-Be the best possible applicant. This goes for dental school obviously, but if you are serious about this opportunity, it never hurts to set some goals to get you a little bit more ahead.
Now these are questions I have asked more than once, and questions which I have been asked by interested pre-dents and dental students. I am not a recruiter or an expert, so again talk to your recruiter for detailed answers. They do not bite. This is the short and sweet on what I know from my experience.
Will you be in combat?
No, the military invests into our dental education, so that we can provide dental services for military members.
Will you be deployed?
If a deployment were to arise, it’s on a voluntary basis for us, and would have to be something I would be of assistance for. For example, if dentists were needed on the homefront for a natural disaster, I could volunteer to go there.
Do you go to bootcamp/basics?
For my scholarship/branch, I will attend a Direct Commission Course this summer (only because it ended up being perfect timing) and a leadership course after I graduate. Some can get away with their requirements after graduation.
Do you have monthly commitments?
No, I literally go to school and they pay me. I don’t do drill weekends or have physical requirements right now, because school is my main priority. They aren’t spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on me to take time away from my studies and potentially cause me to fail classes. So school is my only focus.
What if you want to specialize?
This was also one of the reasons I chose this route. The Army reserve seats in every dental specialty. While I dont have my sights set on anything specific right now, I like that I have the option. It also is a little less competitive, as instead of competing against the world of dentists for a specialty seat, you are competing against HPSP students that want that seat, which significantly narrows the pool. You would also have this schooling paid for, you would just add on additional years to your employment commitment.
Do you know where you want to work/Can you be sent anywhere in the world to work?
As I’ve been told, technically I can go anywhere with an army base. However, there must be a need for dentists, and I am not sent anywhere without being involved in the decision. You will be given options for bases in need well while in dental school, and will submit the top choices that you have. I don’t know where exactly I want to work, I am open to anything, personally.
Are you happy that you received the scholarship/scared for the future/regretful of the decision.
I am VERY thankful that I was able to receive the scholarship. I would choose the path over again if I had to. I am a freak about knowing where my finances are at all times, and being prepared for the future. This alleviated so much stress in my life, as well as my husband’s.
I am not scared for the future, I have been able to get answers to all questions as they arise and there is nothing that scares or worries me about the path I chose. I am excited for it.
And no, I am not regretful in the slightest. So far, everyone involved in this process with me, be it family members, friends, and health professionals assisting me, has agreed that it was a positive decision for mine and my husband’s future. If time commitment were my issue I would likely not be in dentistry in the first place. I also may not be walking out of dental school into private practice immediately, but someday I can still do that. Having experience as professional in healthcare prior to this, I know that I personally would like to have this leadership experience under my belt before private practice anyway.
Just to throw it out there one more time, hit up a recruiter and see what they can offer. Reach out to pre-dental or student dental programs at your school and see if they can get a recruiter in to talk to your club, or bring one to campus to talk to a small group. Often times, students come into school never having known this was an option, and it’s sad to see someone miss out on such a good opportunity.
HERE is a link to finding your nearest recruiter for questions
Thank you to everyone who has reached out, it’s been awesome to meet those interested, currently applying, and already in the program. Sometimes I curse social media, but in the short time since releasing this blog publicly I’ve been able to meet so many new people through it! Feel free to share with friends, and please share your stories and questions with me! I’d love to hear from you and move you in the right direction to someone who can help you with the process.
Even if this helps just one person, it will be worth it.
Until next time,