Every year medical students in the HPSP program as well as students from the Uniformed Services University (USUHS) must participate in the military’s residency match program. The military’s match program is loosely based upon its civilian counterpart. For example, program directors take into consideration grades, board scores, research publications, interviews, etc… However, just like everything else in the military, the armed forces has found away to formalize the process to such a high degree of micromanagement that the entire system is no longer meaningful. For medical students entering in the military match program, they have to wade through a confusing point system that churns out an score for all applicants based on factors such as class rank, prior military service, and “ability to become an officer.” Further, residency program directors have no control over who actually gets selected to attend their particular institute. Instead, a group of the three services’ top leaders convene one week during the fall and decide the fate of all military medical students. The whole process is rather nerve-racking for those of us in the HPSP program. This past week, the military once again held its annual match and crushed the dreams of many people seeking to enter their desired specialties.
The Air Force released its results on a public website in the form of an Excel spreadsheet. Out of privacy concerns for others, I will not reproduce that website here. However, I’m sure that he do some searching around you can find it yourself. Looking over that chart I noticed that over 25% of medical students are matching into flight surgery. For those of you who don’t know, flight surgery involves a one-year internship, six weeks of flying lessons and aerospace medicine, and then it’s off to the clinic to work as an attending. Certainly, anyone reading this blog will instantly realize that flight surgeons are missing out on a lot of valuable training in residency. By granting only one year of training, the military is creating an entire generation of physicians who aren’t fully prepared to become doctors.
For the Air Force, flight surgery is a wastebasket to force all non-matching students into a particular field of medicine. The title “flight surgery” is a misnomer. It has little to do with flying, and nothing to do with surgery. While I will grant that some people are willing to enter this field, surely 1/4 of applicants do not want to have an internship serve as their terminal training.
For the rare student who did match to his chosen field, he can breathe a sigh of relief as his senior year in school is over. But for those students who did not match into their chosen field or location, the next 5+ years are going to be very difficult. Each year that passes I grow more and more nervous about not getting the field that I want, and getting forced into flight surgery. While the prospect of learning how to fly is appealing, more than anything I just want to be a practicing physician. I’ve mentioned earlier on this website about the problems of taking the HPSP scholarship. However, money is not the only issue. Upon learning that I have no control over my future training, I feel as if the military has led us all into one great big lie.
I’m bound to get hate mail from the “patriots.” I signed up with every intention to serve. However I didn’t think that the military would deceive me over the amount of education that I would receive. Further, my role in the military is to be the best doctor I can be. And without that extra training, I’m doing a real disservice to the nation’s soldiers.