The Health Professions Scholarship Program, or HPSP, is probably the most recognizable military optometry program for optometry students today. The scholarship program consists of an agreement between selectees and their respective services. Scholarships can range between one and four years of educational benefits in exchange for a minimum of three years of service as a military optometrist. Four year scholarship recipients agree to four years of active duty service. The benefits of the scholarship include full tuition, reimbursement of required books and equipment, and NBEO registration fees. A living stipend is also provided to students in the amount of $2122 per month according to the Navy’s HPSP website. Scholarship availability fluctuates year to year, with the Army, Navy and Air Force each providing separate opportunities for students.
If you’re on the fence as to whether being an optometrist in the military is for you, rest easy, you can go through the entire application process without committing to anything. The last event before receiving the scholarship and aforementioned benefits is your commissioning ceremony. This event follows the signing of your personal contract. Here is brief roadmap on the application process:
- 1. Locate a Recruiter – Unlike recruiters you may have heard throughout high school, medical recruiters specialize in programs like the HPSP. They also focus on officer opportunities, which are reserved for individuals with a bachelor’s degree. Since these opportunities provide special benefits and are small in number, you need to be diligent in contacting your assigned recruiter. Find local medical recruiting offices online at the following:
2. Fill Out Your Paperwork! – This is where perseverance is tested. The scholarship requires an extensive background check, personal information, and reference section that need to be filled out before you are considered for the HPSP. It is best to commit an entire weekend or two to complete this. Selection boards are usually held just after the new year. While only qualified candidates are considered for these scholarships, the sooner you complete your application, the better your chances are of being offered a spot!
3. Complete Medical Processing – Medical Processing is completed at the nearest military medical center to your recruiting station and is scheduled by your recruiter. During processing, you will be subjected to a standard physical examination, orthopedic and eye screenings, and a medical history questionnaire among other tests. Just be aware if you have any medical conditions, they may need to be waived and all proper documentation of former injuries and surgeries might need to be collected. Unfortunately, some medical conditions are disqualifying for the scholarship (which your recruiter will be able to explain).
4. Commissioning Ceremony – Once you have been awarded an HPSP spot by the selection board and cleared by medical processing, the culmination of your efforts is the commissioning ceremony. At the closest recruiting station, you will complete all paperwork and sign your HPSP contract. After, another officer will read your oath of office as you repeat the words every commissioned officer in the military has read before you. With completion of the oath, you will become a reserve officer in the Army, Navy, or Air Force with the rank of O-1.
Upon commissioning, you will return to optometry school with all the rights and privileges of the HPSP. In short, all tuition expenses, reimbursable equipment and book fees, a biweekly stipend, and all NBEO exam registrations are covered. Easily, the HPSP has been the most impactful and beneficial decision I have made in optometry school (besides getting married!). If you are at all intrigued by the opportunity to serve your country in your chosen career field, I would highly recommend contacting your local medical recruiter and researching the topic further!