Civilian vs Military Route to Becoming a Doctor

Civilian vs Military Route to Becoming a Doctor

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I want to introduce to you Tianna. Her husband is in the Air Force and went the military route to become a doctor.

Hello everyone! My name is Tianna Ryan, the voice behind, wife to a fourth-year medical student and we currently live in Indianapolis, Indiana. My husband recently matched and we will be moving to Greenville, NC.

I was born and raised in a small town in northwest Ohio and an avid lover of sushi, hot bubble baths, slow mornings, simplicity and road trips with my husband and black lab. 

A week before Ben (my husband) started medical school, his cousins, my friends, set us up watching Mission Impossible under the big screen in the small town of Van Wert, Ohio. One year later, he got down on one knee in the sand on a camping trip in Michigan and the following year I said “I Do” in the middle of a garden and we danced as the fireworks from a nearby baseball game started our life together with a bang, literally.

A year and a half of marriage, one furry companion, and two different houses later and we are riding the roller coaster of Ben’s last year of medical school and continuing to grow in oneness, kindness, and the always more love there is to give. 

Civilian vs Military Route to Becoming a Doctor

Tianna and I thought some of you who are interested in applying for medical school are curious to know what the differences are in the whole process of becoming a doctor whether it be civilian or military. We (my husband) went the civilian route so I will cover that. I have little to no clue how the military route works so Tianna will take care of that. Let’s compare and contrast!


Applying for medical school civilian vs. military?

There is no difference between applying to medical school as a civilian vs military. There is a whole other process of signing onto the Air Force/military but it is totally separate from the medical school application process. 

What is the loan process/reimbursement with military? 


You apply for a student loan through FAFSA. They include the cost of tuition, school expenses, and living cost (they only consider living cost for the medical student even if they have a family.) They provide you with a breakdown of expenses. We didn’t ever receive the money for tuition, it was just automatically paid to the school. Be careful to set aside the school expenses so that when they come up you haven’t spent it on living costs. For example, we didn’t realize that we needed to pay for a $600 test and had already spent the money on our living costs because we did not set it aside. 

You can qualify for food stamps, WIC, Medicaid, and other government assistance programs to help offset some of the living costs you will have.


That’s the beauty of the military, there are no loans. The military pays for medical school and then you are required to serve for the number of years they paid for. My husband signed on during undergrad so the Air Force paid/is paying for all four years of medical school and then after residency he will be required to serve four years. 

Military monthly stipend?

Having no loans is just the beginning of the benefits that come from the military. You also get a monthly stipend of $2,000/ month and the bountiful discounts at stores/restaurants. 


What are rotations like for civilian vs military?


Rotations are set up through the school, some in the area and some not. For my husband he did a rotation close to Palm Springs and had to live there for about a month because it was too far of a drive to do each day. Some of his rotations where 30 miles away but would take an hour and a half both ways because of LA traffic. Others where 15 minutes away, which we really enjoy those months with short commutes. 

You can choose to do away rotations at the places you want to do residency. This helps you get a foot in the door. You however do not have the option to do rotations at military residency locations.

When my husband was at the end of his second year of medical school I talked to a wife of a student who was about to graduate. I asked her how rotations were, since we would be heading into that phase next. She said, “when it’s hard, it’s hard, and when its easy its easy.” I came to find out what she meant by that. Some months/rotations he would get home early, have weekends off, and a short commute. Other months/rotations he drove in traffic for 3 hours, worked holidays, and was exhausted. So take it a month at a time. If it’s a hard month, push to the end and hope for an easy month to come.


Rotations are similar overall. For most specialties, an away rotation is not required but highly recommended for competitive sake, but with the military they require two to fulfill active duty requirements. Away rotations for the military serve literally as interviews. For example, my husband wants to specialize in emergency medicine (EM) and through the Air Force there are only four residency programs for EM. It’s wise to pick the programs you are most interested in for your away rotations because they (residents, program director, etc.) get to see the student working and get to know them more than the students who only get an interview with the program. My husband did his away rotations back-to-back during the summer between his third and fourth year.

What are the differences between matching?


Match day is in March. You submit your applications to civilian residency’s the September before, do interviews between October and January and then don’t hear if you match until the Monday before Match Day in March. The Monday of Match week you find out if you match via email. If you do then all is week and you will find out WHERE on that Friday. If there is no match then you will do the SOAP and apply for open spots. 


With the Air Force, match day is in December. Match day with the military can result in three different outcomes: civilian deferred, military match or not accepted. Military match is just when you are matched with an Air Force residency program. Civilian Deferred means that you have been accepted into your specialty by the Air Force but now (if you haven’t already) start doing interviews for civilian programs and wait for match day in March like every other non-military fourth year. Crazy thing is that even if the Air Force accepts you into the specialty there is still a possibility not to be accepted by civilian programs. 

What do you think about the route your spouse chose? (civilian vs military)


I am glad my husband chose the civilian route so he can be done when he is done training and not have to owe time to the military. That being said we have a lot of student debt that is owed. For me personally I don’t come from a military family or have experience with it so it frightens me enough to be happy with paying a massive amount of student loans. 


Overall, I wouldn’t change a thing. Ben made his choice about joining the Air Force before we even met but I wouldn’t do it any different. Medical school and just becoming a doctor in general is stressful enough, I can’t imagine having the financial burden on top of it all. We do love to travel, so the fact that we will be moving again after residency to another unknown place doesn’t bother us. It’s an opportunity to live in places we would have never chosen to live outside of the military. 

Did you or your medical spouse choose the civilian or military route? Have some information to add and share with us? Please leave a comment below!