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How Military Experience Can Support Your Pre-Med Post-Bacc Success


You volunteered to serve your country as a member of the armed forces. Now you want to continue to serve others as a physician. Your time in the military, whether you worked in a clinical or non-clinical role, can enhance your medical school application. This article looks at some aspects of your service experience to consider highlighting as you begin your medical school journey – and steps you can take to improve your academic record along the way. 

A Service Mindset

You were motivated to join the military because of a sense of duty and commitment to something greater than yourself. In fact, you took an oath of enlistment (and possibly an oath of office) in which you vowed to defend the Constitution of the United States and obey lawful orders from your superiors.

A similar service ethos underpins the field of medicine. Healthcare professionals agree to abide by a code of ethics – some will even take an oath, though it’s not always required – and dedicate their lives to improving the well-being of others. You can highlight the parallels between these two service mindsets in your personal statement and during interviews.

Teamwork and Leadership

Military service emphasizes teamwork and leadership development, with an emphasis on developing an outward mindset, described in a 2020 Military Medicine article as “[being] focused on the collective result and [seeing] others as people with needs, objectives, and challenges of their own.”

Healthcare teams require a similar mindset, because cooperation by different professionals is necessary to achieve “the collective result” – safe, high-quality care for patients. You can highlight instances of collaboration in your military experience to demonstrate how you can become a valuable asset to a team in the complex healthcare environment.

Cultural Competence and Experience with Diverse Populations

The Department of Defense report that as of 2022, 31.2% of active-duty servicemembers identified as members of a racial minority, making the military slightly less diverse than the overall U.S. population as recorded by the 2020 census. In spite of this, many servicemembers are exposed to people from different cultural, ethnic, and ideological backgrounds throughout their service. This exposure can encourage the development of cultural competence and a deep understanding of diversity—a crucial aspect of providing patient-centered care in our multicultural society. 

As an aspiring medical student, your exposure to diverse perspectives can enhance your ability to connect with and care for patients from different communities.

Discipline, Adaptability, and Resilience

Military service requires an ability to adhere to strict schedules, maintain focus under pressure, and persevere through challenges. In the demanding environment of medical education, where long hours of study and clinical rotations are the norm, this discipline becomes invaluable. It’s even more invaluable once you begin your medical career – particularly if you choose a field like emergency medicine.

Similarly, military service develops your adaptability – that is, your ability to manage rapidly changing circumstances and unexpected challenges – and your resilience, in which you cope with a crisis or setback and then move forward. Being able to fall back on your training under pressure, think on your feet to save a life, and push forward in the face of difficulty are all essential capabilities a physician needs. Whether you served in an active combat zone or not, you will have experiences you can highlight that demonstrate your resilience, adaptability, and discipline to medical school committees.

Post-Bacc Programs: Originally Designed for Military Students Like You

One thing your military experience can’t offer you is a strong science GPA. If you’re missing academic requirements for medical school, pursuing a post-bacc certificate or special master’s program could be the right choice for you. In fact, the very first post-bacc program, founded in 1955 at Columbia University in New York, was developed to help returning servicemembers from World War II prepare for medical school.

Pre-med post-bacc programs are more widely available – and more flexible – than ever before. If you’re still serving, you may be able to take advantage of an online post-bacc program. If you’re a veteran, you may also be able to use your military educational benefits to help pay for your program. (Make sure you ask each school’s financial aid department when researching programs.)

Ready to continue your mission to get into medical school? Our pre-med post-bacc rankings are the perfect place to begin.

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