The Health Professions Scholarship Program prepares students for military service—and medicine.
Six students at the Warren Alpert Medical School are just starting their military careers. The Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) offered by the Army, Navy, and Air Force provides tuition, books, fees, and living expenses, and it commissions medical students as second lieutenants. After medical school, the HPSP students will complete military residency programs and then be deployed, serving one year of active duty for every year in the program.
Nationwide, approximately 270 medical students graduate in the Army HPSP annually. They make up 80 percent of active duty military physicians.
Uzoamaka Okoro ’16 MD’20 decided to be a doctor at age 16 and applied to Brown’s Program in Liberal Medical Education. Three years later she joined the military via the HPSP.
“I decided to pursue a career in medicine because I truly value wellness, justice, and equality,” Okoro says. “My whole life has been making commitments.”
Born in Los Angeles to parents from Nigeria—her father is an engineer and her mother a VA nurse—Okoro ran track and played rugby for Brown and the US national team. She was inspired to join the military after watching her mother care for veterans and their families.
She chose the HPSP not only to minimize the financial burden of medical school but to have the opportunity “to bring the humanity of medicine to the military in violent or high-conflict contexts, and … to treat not only American soldiers and their families but also civilians in other countries and even potential combatants.”
Timera Brown MD’22, also in the Army HPSP, graduated salutatorian from Tougaloo College in 2018.
“I have wanted to attend med school since age 8 when I was by my mom’s side when she was being treated for her brain cancer,” Brown writes in an email. “HPSP is a huge financial blessing … and an awesome opportunity to give back my services.”
HPSP students attend a Basic Officer Leadership Course before medical school. Tim Wright MD’19 believes that training helped him particularly during his third year of med school, when he began to face the fatigue, stress, and hierarchy of health care.
“Especially going into clerkships, where there is much more of a team unit, with a hierarchy, there are people directly above you and there are people many notches above you,” he says. “Being familiar with a chain of command was helpful. I think you are much more prepared for that when you have some exposure to another system.”
Their experience with the military’s structure as well as its organizational feedback and accountability may serve these doctors-in-training well.
“Medicine is a team sport. No matter what you are doing, you have to learn to work with other people,” Wright says.