Making the Transition from Special Ops Medic to a Medical Career

U.S. Soldiers participating in the Special Forces qualification course, try to revive a simulated casualty, during the Robin Sage exercise Sept. 21, 2010, in Fort Bragg, N.C. Robin sage is the culmination exercise for all Special Forces qualification course students. (U.S. Army courtesy photo/Released)

Your time in the military can be a great opportunity to gain experience for a future career. There are enormous opportunities for a motivated young person seeking a foundation in career development, leadership, great responsibility at a young age and time to grow as a person.

However, you should do your own research and not let a military recruiter find a job for you. If you want to get training for a job in the military, do not sign any paperwork until you know that training is guaranteed as long as you continue to meet all of its requirements.

It is up to you. Each recruit must do the research and preparation to be competitive and physically ready for service, especially when they're aiming for training in programs with a high attrition rate.

Here is an email from a young man who wants to become a special operations combat medic before studying to become a doctor.

Hey, Stew.

I'm 18, and I've been training for special forces for a year now. I intend to take the physical test for enlistment into the Army, Navy or Air Force as a combat medic within their special forces units. I am going to get some college and join at either age 20 or 22, but I want to become a doctor when I leave SF. That means I'll be going through all the steps to become a doctor, which includes getting a bachelor's degree, going to med school for 4 years and then my residency for a couple of years. Any recommendations? -- Thanks, Future MD Jackson

Jackson -- Wow! Those are great goals! You won't be the first to follow this same medical career path. There are many people who have gone on this journey who can inspire you and make you realize that it is possible. Knowing that others have done what you want to do is a powerful tool for success. Sometimes, you have to "see it to believe it."

A noteworthy example is the Navy SEAL medic Jonny Kim, who earned both the Silver Star and Bronze Star as an enlisted SEAL, graduated Harvard Medical School and is now an astronaut. All of this is very possible with the right dedication and persistence.

Philip Nordstrom (18D) spent 13 years as an Army Special Forces medic and earned a scholarship to attend medical school while still serving in the military.

There are many opportunities for those that seek this logical transition. See more scholarship opportunities in medicine.

Spec Ops Medic to Physician's Assistant (PA)

Another opportunity for combat medics in special ops units is to attend college for a few years after service and become a physician's assistant. The University of North Carolina School of Medicine has a program for veterans seeking this career path.

Take time in college to train for whatever special ops job you decide to pursue, since they all have highly advanced physical fitness standards. The Navy and Air Force will require much more swimming, so you need to prepare yourself for the miles of swimming, pool and diving skills needed.

Consider a pre-med college curriculum or the paramedic course option. Either one will serve you well, especially if you have your four-year degree going into the military.

-- Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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