Military Physicians Aren’t Real Doctors and Other Myths Shared on Spouse Pages

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Military spouse Facebook groups can be a great source of information. They are helpful on a wide range of topics from housing insights, to getting plugged into activities in the area, or finding a babysitter or a dress for a military ball. But when it comes to military medicine, you will find some seriously savage (and often inaccurate) posts. While many of the information in these types of posts is negatively charged due to an unfortunate personal experience within the military medical system, it is also important to clear up the incorrect information about military physicians.

So here I am, a military spouse – who is also a doctor’s wife – that has read these posts in Facebook groups for over 13 years and is ready to help look at some of the frequent complaints and clear up what is a real problem versus what is a rumor, myth or simply inaccurate information about military medicine and military physicians.

Military doctors aren’t real doctors.”

Every time I see someone make this comment in a military spouse Facebook group I’m beyond confused, so this is a perfect myth to start with on our journey to the truth.

Did you know that most military doctors go to medical school outside of the military system? Every military physician must complete medical school before they can practice medicine.  They also undergo further medical training inside or outside of the military, depending on what specialty they are in.

Could you encounter an intern or a resident at a military hospital? Sure you could – just like you can at a civilian teaching hospital.

Could you encounter a fellowship-trained, dual board-certified physician? Sure you could. Many military physicians do extensive training.

Could your child’s pediatrician also have been trained to fly a plane in an emergency? Yep. Welcome to the fun of military medicine! 

The military medical school will take anyone.”

This one is beyond far fetched. Over 3,000 applicants apply each year for around 170 spots, and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) acceptance rate is around 9%. So yes, it is easier to get into USUHS than say Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Columbia, or maybe NYU, but many of the state, public or private medical schools have a much higher acceptance rate for qualified students.  

Additionally, attending USUHS comes with a big military service requirement that isn’t appealing financially to many physicians.

Military physicians always suggest ibuprofen.”

Ok this may not be a myth, but let’s take a look at this frequently voiced complaint.

NIH’s National Library of Medicine informs us that ibuprofen is a medication used to manage and treat inflammatory diseases, rheumatoid disorders, mild to moderate pain, fever, dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps), and osteoarthritis. Some common over-the-counter uses for ibuprofen are muscle sprains or strains, joint aches, pain from migraine, sore throat, and pain from cold or cases of flu. 

Trust me, I get the annoyance with this one.

Anytime I feel unwell with a headache, period pain, a pulled muscle or broken finger and complain to my military physician husband, one of his first questions is “Did you take any ibuprofen yet?”

Spoiler alert: the answer is always no.

So yes, military doctors do frequently tell you to take ibuprofen, but it is also likely part of the protocol for your medical need. Before you decide to ICE a doctor for telling you to take ibuprofen, let’s pause to ask “Did I go in for care of one of the things that ibuprofen treats when it was suggested by my military doctor?” The answer is likely yes. 

Military doctors are in it for the money.”

I’ve yet to meet a board certified military physician that doesn’t make significantly less than their civilian counterpart. They often make half the salary of a civilian in the same specialty, in the same geographical location. So no, military doctors are not in it for the money. 

Additionally military doctors are frequently deployed. They leave their families behind and sleep in the dirt and live in tight quarters on ships just like the brave men and women who are their patients. Military doctors answer a call not only to practice medicine but also to serve our nation in care of those who protect it (and their families). 

Military physicians make you wait forever to see them.”

Access to care is a common complaint on military spouse pages no matter what base you are stationed.

Truthfully, this same complaint is now in the civilian world too. There is a shortage of doctors everywhere. There are far more patients than there are physicians and trying to get an appointment which can mean lengthy waits to be seen. 

The best answer I’ve personally found to this problem, is to explore the option of Tricare Select for you and your family. Depending where you stationed you may have faster access to care if you are willing to pay a co-pay and be seen away from a MTF.

All doctors at a military hospital are military physicians.

This one is surprising to most people, but all doctors at a military medical treatment facility (MTF) are not military physicians. Some of the providers are civilian contractors and you could encounter them anywhere. 

(Note: Only once in 10 years on Tricare Prime did I run into a physician at a military hospital that I felt was not a suitable provider based on my interaction with him as a patient and it is worthwhile to note that he wasn’t a military physician, but rather a civilian physician who was contracted for that military hospital.)

On the flip side of this, your physician at a civilian location may actually be a military physician. During residency and fellowship training, many of the rotation sites are civilian hospitals. That means that military physicians are dressed as civilian physicians and you’d never know they were military. 

Additionally, many military physicians work to increase their salary to be closer to their civilian counterparts with moonlighting (having a second job). This requires command approval, but for those who are able to moonlight it means they are working as a civilian physician in their off hours. So you could see your military PCM in the local ER or have your active duty spouse’s military general surgeon as your trauma surgeon at a nearby hospital. 

Remember, Your Medical Care is Your Choice!

Remember, every year during Tricare Open Season you have the option to switch from Tricare Prime to Tricare Select to be seen by civilian providers of your choosing. While you may want to weigh the thoughts and experiences of others, the decision is ultimately what is best for your family. Take your time to research both options, but don’t miss out on the window to change if that is what you desire!

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