Service Branches

While every Service branch is afforded care by Military physicians, the physicians who provide that care are drawn from one of three Service branches and their associated Reserve and National Guard components: the Army, Navy and Air Force.

Furthermore, Navy physicians serve the Marine Corps as well as the Navy, and members of the Coast Guard also rely on physicians from the U.S. Public Health Service. 

Each branch has its own unique qualities, while Reserve and Guard options offer a part-time obligation that allows you to continue your civilian practice. There are also some differences in the career paths available for active-duty Services and different Reserve and Guard components.

Service Branch Introduction

The U.S. Military has six Services: Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force and Coast Guard. With the exception of the Space Force, each Service has an active-duty and Reserve component. Additionally, the Army and Air Force have Guard components that are controlled by state governments, unless they are called upon by the federal government to serve during emergencies or support military objectives.

Current career tracks can include:

  • Academic (e.g., faculty, program director)
  • Research (e.g., physician scientist, research director)
  • Operational (e.g., military unit-specific positions)
  • Command (e.g., military units or hospitals)
  • Leadership (e.g., chief medical officer [CMO])

Get to know the different components of the Service branches, which includes things to consider when choosing between active-duty, Reserve and Guard options.

Army

As a U.S. Army physician, you will work with the most elite medical professional teams around the world. Unlike some other branches, the Army mostly focuses on land-based operations, although there are Special Operations groups that can take your career skyward with specialized service opportunities like parachute training and more. The Army also has the largest number of residency positions available.

Navy

Numerous operational opportunities are available to you in the U.S. Navy, including serving on ships; flight surgeons supporting aviation communities; and undersea medical officers serving Navy SEALS, Navy divers, other special forces units, and submariners. The Navy also supports the U.S. Marine Corps, as Navy physicians are embedded within all Marine units.

Air Force

As a physician in the U.S. Air Force, you will be directly responsible for the health and well-being of the service members who fight, fly and soar into space as part of their mission to defend the nation and its international interests. Your mission is to provide unmatched, high-quality care to Airmen and their families.

Part-Time Service

Options exist for students or licensed and practicing physicians who may be looking to practice medicine in the civilian field while also serving part-time in the Reserve or Guard.

Below are all of the part-time Service branch options available in military medicine:

Unique Programs + Opportunities

  • United States Military Entrance Processing Command (USMEPCOM)

    As a vital link between recruiting and training for today's armed forces, the United States Military Entrance Processing Command (USMEPCOM) offers the opportunity to enroll in specialized programs for licensed physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners.

    Processing applicants for the military requires a highly trained and motivated team at USMEPCOM. These medical officers manage important roles at the medical departments at various Military Entrance Processing stations (MEPS) and help in successful execution of the USMEPCOM Medical Qualification Program (UMQP). They serve as the Department of Defense's local medical authority and subject matter experts for conducting medical evaluations, determining medical qualifications, performing medical examinations, assisting with applicant processing and all other support needed to execute the UMQP successfully. Job postings are administered under the Army, but the USMEPCOM mission is joint and its medical professionals serve all military branches.