Soldier goes from Special Forces to medical school with help from Army scholarship
FORT KNOX, Ky. -- A U.S. Army special operations recruiter is hanging up his green beret after 13 years on active duty and picking up a stethoscope to become a doctor.
Sgt. 1st Class Philip Nordstrom has been selected to be a part of The F. Edward Hébert Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program. The Army awards approximately 275 of these medical scholarships each year. Nordstrom will receive full tuition for four years and a generous monthly stipend of at least $2,200. Once he is finished with school and medical residency, his service commitment will be five years.
When Nordstrom graduated from high school in South Carolina, he took some college courses, then joined the Army in 2005 as a Special Forces recruit. After three years of training, he became a Special Forces medical sergeant.
"Special Forces is the best job in the world," Nordstrom said. "It was a very difficult decision to leave, but I wanted to further my career in medicine. I know there's a whole lot out there in the medical world that I haven't yet had the opportunity to be exposed to or experience."
Nordstrom's circumstance is unique. Most of the HPSP recipients are newly graduated students, Reserve Soldiers, or Guardsmen -- not active-duty Soldiers.
"Even if you're already in the military and have a career, you can still take a different path," Nordstrom said. "In my case, it's almost like starting a new career all over again."
In order to apply for HPSP, Soldiers must obtain a baccalaureate degree from an accredited school.
"I went to college for a few years before I came into the Army," Nordstrom recalled. "Then 11 years later, I decided I wanted to attempt med school, so I had to get my bachelor's degree. That was the first step in the process."
While on active duty, Nordstrom obtained his baccalaureate degree from Campbell University in North Carolina.
"I had to work a 9 to 5 full-time, active-duty job in the Army, and a combination of online and classroom courses from 6 to 10 p.m. weeknights," he explained. "Most of the classes I had to take were in the classroom or in labs since I was trying to apply to medical school."
Prior to applying for the HPSP, Nordstrom was accepted to the University of South Carolina, School of Medicine.
"Getting accepted to medical school was the first box to check for me," Nordstrom said. "Once you have that, then you can continue. If I could give some advice to anyone who plans to apply for HPSP, I would encourage them to start the HPSP process while they are applying for medical school."
Nordstrom was excited and relieved after learning he had been selected for HPSP.
"I had decided that I was going to go to medical school no matter what, but I prefer to do it with the Army," he said. "I want to continue my military career in this direction."
Nordstrom comes from a military family. His brother Joel Nordstrom is a combat engineer, and his father, Mark Nordstrom, is a retired Army colonel.
"He's always been interested in pursuing a worthy and great challenge in the service of others, and he's done very well," retired Col. Nordstrom said. "Several years ago I attended a school fair with him at Fort Bragg as he was considering his options. When one school found out he was a Special Forces medical sergeant, they told him that he could obtain certification as a Physician's Assistant in three semesters. Pretty tempting. He walked away. I asked him about that decision to turn down a bird in hand. He replied, 'You remember Dad when you told me that sometimes when faced with a decision that you might want to choose the path that you would later regret not pursuing? That's how I feel, I would always wonder if I could have made it into medical school. I don't want to live with that regret.' I was grateful he actually listened to me!"
Nordstrom hopes to work with the Special Forces as a supervisory doctor in the future.
"I think it would be an amazing experience later on in my Army career because of my background of being a medic on an SF team," Nordstrom said. "My familiarity with that aspect of medicine would give me a unique perspective as a supervisory doctor."
There are five main steps in the process of applying for HPSP:
• Reach out to an U.S. Army medical or local recruiter to schedule a preliminary interview to learn about joining the U.S. Army health care team and the HPSP application process. The recruiter also will provide the application forms.
• Gather transcripts, letters of recommendation and test scores to submit with the HPSP application.
• Complete the HPSP application form at the same time as applications for desired medical schools. Individuals need to make sure they include all of the medical schools to which they have applied in their HPSP application.
• When the application is complete, submit it, along with letters of acceptance, through a U.S. Army recruiter. A selection board will evaluate the application packet and send an award notification letter if accepted.
• Once accepted to an accredited physician of medicine or physician of osteopathic medicine degree program, contact the recruiter to finalize the HPSP enrollment.