FORT KNOX, Ky. (Army News Service, May 11, 2012) -- During fiscal year 2011 the Army awarded health professions scholarships to 502 students, including 287 medical students and 127 dental students.

Those scholarships covered the costs of more than $24 million in tuition alone. Currently more than 1,100 medical students are attending more than 150 schools, thanks to the Army's Health Professions Scholarship Program.

The F. Edward Herbert Army Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program, or HPSP, is available to help students finance their graduate medical, dental, veterinary and clinical psychology degrees, as well as select nursing and specialty degrees.

"In a time of economic uncertainty, young healthcare professionals should carefully consider their options before assuming significant debt to finance their education," said Col. Scott Dingle, Medical Recruiting Brigade commander. "Through the HPSP program, Army medicine has helped finance the education and training of thousands of health care professionals across the United States."

For many students seeking a career in healthcare, the burden of student loan debts and the process of qualifying for a loan, are both serious issues that keep them from pursuing advanced degrees.

According to a study by the Association of American Medical Colleges, annual tuition and fees at state medical schools in 2010-2011 averaged approximately $25,000 for state residents and $48,000 for non-residents. At private schools, tuition and fees averaged $42,000 for residents and $43,000 for non-resident students. These figures do not include housing or living expenses.

"The HPSP program alleviates many of the financial concerns," said Maj. Carl Tadaki, general surgeon, Ireland Army Community Hospital, Fort Knox, Ky. "It pays all the tuition, all the books and a stipend to live on. It alleviates most of the financial burden that people incur."

Graduates who finance medical school face an average debt of nearly $160,000, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Additionally, more than one-third of medical school graduates are also burdened with undergraduate educational loans.

"Initially, I took the scholarship because of the money," said Col. Christopher A. Dillon, MD, Adolescent Medicine Staff Physician, San Antonio Military Medical Center, San Antonio. "I never expected to practice medicine in the Army 24 years later. I have had the opportunity to tour the world, participate in humanitarian missions, provide medical care to our service members, local nationals and contract workers from around the world. I get to practice medicine the right way. I spend about 30 minutes with each patient and get to give comprehensive care for each visit."

Army HPSP scholarship amounts vary by school and specialty. The program provides students with the full cost of tuition, school-related fees and books, and a monthly stipend of $2,060 throughout the school year. The scholarship can be used at any accredited school in the United States or Puerto Rico. Current scholarship students are attending an extensive list of schools including Harvard, Vanderbilt and Duke.

In addition, HPSP awardees in the Medical Corps and Dental Corps are eligible for a one-time $20,000 bonus. Upon graduation and entry to active duty as an officer, health care professionals receive increases in salary and opportunities for a broad range of residencies, fellowships and special pay incentives.

After graduation, medical professionals can be assigned to work in any of the eight Army medical centers, 27 medical department activities or numerous clinics in the United States, Europe, Korea, and Japan. Dental clinics are organized into five major centers with clinics in the United States, Europe, Korea and Japan. Currently, health professionals in the U.S. Army serve a community of over 3.5 million Soldiers, retirees and their family members.