June 24, 2019

A Guide to the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) Secondary Essays

For a small group of pre-meds, military medicine has been on their minds for years, possibly due to a family history in the armed forces, and some are even active duty already.

But for most medical school candidates, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) is an overlooked prospect for their journey as a doctor, and we’d argue that they should take a closer look.

Yes, training through USUHS includes additional responsibilities, but it also offers many benefits, and it might be a better fit for you than you think.



Maybe it sounds corny, but medical training through the military would offer a unique path, full of interesting travel, unusual cases, and novel settings.

Imagine practicing medicine in the wilderness, aboard a carrier ship, in a submarine, or inside a hangar of jet planes.

Some USUHS students get to travel to Central America on a ship for four weeks. Others are part of the initial response to public health and medical crises around the world, like ebola or hurricanes. One graduate became Saddam Hussein’s urologist, so you never know what you’re going to do.    

You have to admit it sounds pretty cool - something more fun than usual before the slog of residency. Two USUHS graduates even became astronauts.


Speaking of residency, training through the military will make it easier to get into competitive residency programs.

There are exclusive programs just for the military match or special health professions programs; if you attend USUHS for medical school, you’ll have the luxury of both the normal match system and the military match system.

Depending on specialty, this advantage can make it significantly easier to match, especially for the most specialized programs like orthopedic surgery.


Most Savvy Pre-med contributors live in California, and we must admit it’s pretty nice. Great weather, delicious food, enormous diversity.

California is important for many students we work with, and USUHS could be an additional way for in-state candidates to hedge their bets.

There is a huge military presence in California: the Navy in San Diego (all specialties), the Air Force in Davis (active duty but working at UC Davis), and Camp Pendleton (family medicine).


Medical school can be stressful and isolating, often reducing one’s social life and sense of community.

But training through the military would let you be a part of another extended family, with the privilege of caring for soldiers - people who have sacrificed everything and earned the title of “hero.”

It’s rare to be able to serve the service-oriented, but military medicine gives you this opportunity. You can become a part of a long-standing tradition and find lifelong friendships with your cohort of peers.

Just a small example - the “Honor Salute” - when someone dies on the floor of a military hospital, everything stops. Everyone mans the rails. Everyone is at attention as the person is taken out in full silence.


For many candidates, this might be the primary selling point for applying to USUHS. Medical school is undoubtedly expensive, but this route could let you avoid debt altogether.

If you’re accepted to USUHS, you’re paid $64,000 (or more) to attend. It involves a 7-year commitment after residency, but you’re made a full-time commissioned officer. During your active duty, you’re given a tax-free housing allowance and free healthcare for you and your family.  

Sub-point: all your years in medical school contribute towards retirement!


During active duty, you will be nowhere near the frontlines; you’re never in harm’s way, even when deployed.

In addition to applying to USUHS through the AMCAS, there’s the option of applying for the Health Professions Scholarship Program.

The Army, Navy, and Air Force offer a service scholarship to students who attend medical school programs. If accepted, students receive full coverage of all tuition/fee charges as well as reimbursement of health insurance costs and other related school expenses. A living stipend, around $2,000 per month, is also provided.

Upon completion of school, the physicians “repay” the scholarship by working one year in the branch of service they were accepted into for each year that they received the scholarship.

Who’s a Good Fit for USUHS?

  • Candidates with prior medical experience
  • Service-oriented students who volunteer and sacrifice for others
  • Leaders with a trend of success and excellence
  • Candidates who can pass a light fitness test (run 2 miles, do 20 pushups)
  • Applicants with a hunger for adventure
  • Candidates who want to get into competitive residencies or live/practice in CA


The military health system is one of the largest networks in the world:

  • 9.5 million employees in the system
  • $48 billion budget


  • 60% of matriculants have no prior military service (but those with prior service ARE given preference - ROTC counts)
  • 3200 applications each year for 171 spots
  • 3.6 average GPA
  • 509-510 average MCAT
  • Holistic review - those with above a 3.0 and a 500 will be considered based on other merits


IMPORTANT NOTE: the secondary indicates that you must return it in 21 days! However, we always recommend sending your secondaries back as soon as possible, hopefully within the first few days of receiving it, a week at the most.


1. Military and Public Health Medicine is a calling that is both rewarding and challenging. “America’s Medical School” is looking for the absolute best to serve all military and Public Health Service beneficiaries—service members, retirees, and family members. Please describe your motivation to learn and practice medicine with the U.S. military medical corps and/or the U.S. Public Health Service. (1500 characters)

Best-case scenario, you have a family history of military service and can regale USUHS with this information, as it will clearly give you an edge over other candidates.

If not, you’ll have to dig deeper and be more creative. Consider what we’ve said about adventure, as well as the privilege of serving the service-oriented.

One good approach would be to share a quick anecdote about yourself, maybe working as a wilderness survival coach or chief scribe in a clinic, that would illustrate your commitment to certain criteria: servant leadership, poise under pressure, giving back to those who give the most, etc.

Once you’ve established these values through a main example and smaller supporting examples, you can link these personal values to the lifestyle, commitment, and novel opportunity that military medicine offers.

2. The F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine features a distinctive curriculum that meets all of the requirements for a high quality medical degree AND prepares students to be high-performing officers in the medical corps of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force or Public Health Service. Please describe what in your research about our school and/or in your personal or family background attracts you to our institution’s unique mission and approach. (1500 characters)

Again, having a family background in the military is clearly valued.

But let’s take a look at the mission statement, specifically. USUHS champions four values - Respect, Integrity, Safety, Excellence - so it would be wise to share examples of your work, volunteering, or extracurriculars that exhibit these qualities in action.

Some possibilities that come to mind: work as an EMT, scoutmaster of a Boy/Cub Scout troop or leader for brownie Girl Scouts, member of an ethics board, leader of a sorority or fraternity, coordinator of a youth summer camp, tutor/mentor for underprivileged kids.

Hopefully you’re seeing a trend - you want to show that you’re comfortable with accountability and attracted to positions of great responsibility, especially for the wellbeing of others.

If you can show yourself as someone who is willing to sacrifice on behalf of others and devote time to altruistic endeavors, you’ll be able to convey why an education on the frontlines and a commitment to active duty are so attractive to you, or at least in line with your overall character.

3. The F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine receives far more outstanding applications from potential students than we are able to admit in any given year. Our Admissions Committee likes to assemble classes of students with a diversity of backgrounds, skills, experiences and talents to care for our patients—many of whom have overcome impressive challenges while serving our country. Please describe a special quality or experience that will help you relate to our unique population and that will strengthen your class if admitted to “America’s Medical School.” (1500 characters)

So, in essence, this fits the mold of a general “challenge” prompt, but it also alludes to elements of diversity as well.

For candidates who completed the disadvantaged essay on the AMCAS, you’ll likely want to go back to this well, without repeating things verbatim. The military is going to want applicants from challenging backgrounds, because it shows an ability to overcome adversity and struggle. Candidates with this kind of backstory are in an easier position to answer challenge and diversity at the same time. Perhaps the only time that a disadvantage has its advantages…

For people who cannot responsibly claim hardship or disadvantage, you can still illustrate the diverse challenges on your path.

Let’s start with diversity. As we’ve said in other secondary guides, it’s smart to focus on your “experiential” or “intellectual” diversity, rather than more traditional forms like ethnicity or culture. If you’re black, hispanic, or part of the LGBTQ community, then you’re underrepresented in medicine and could highlight that fact. But medical schools are going to be inundated with essays about being Vietnamese, Polish, Indian, Russian, etc.

So, it’s good to rethink the diversity question:

  • How are you going to make their campus a more interesting place?
  • Have you ever had an unusual job? Did you major in something unique? What makes you different from other pre-meds?
  • Pretend you’re in a conversation with your future medical school classmates about the state of healthcare in the United States. What point of view could you contribute to that conversation?

Most of the activities you’d use to answer the above questions have inherent challenges, so hopefully you can find a story or situation to serve as your hybrid challenge-diversity response. Have you ever mediated a conflict between two friends or colleagues? Helped a friend or family member through a serious issue? Try to choose situations which tempted you to give up, or scenarios that tested your ethics through a conflict of interest. Also, choosing times that you stepped out of your comfort zone or dealt with a learning curve can be a good approach, since your shortcomings will be more forgivable.

Still have questions about USUHS? What secondaries guide should we do next? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll respond personally!

Good luck with your secondary essays!

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