JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
When the Medical Education and Training Campus (METC) first stood up on Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, 13 years ago, it became the world’s largest enlisted medical education campus. Boasting both institutional and programmatic accreditation and credentialing, METC’s academic programs must meet rigorous educational quality standards.
Even so, many military medics transitioning into the civilian work force have historically found themselves unemployed due to the difficulty of transferring their military experience into civilian jobs. Sometimes there is no civilian job equivalent for a military healthcare occupational specialty.
After participating in the 2013 White House Roundtable for Veteran Credentialing and Licensing, METC established the Strategic Planning and Partnerships (SPP) department in 2014 to continue supporting that effort.
“The initiative focused on service members earning their credentials and licenses in their career fields before exiting the military, empowering them to better compete with their civilian counterparts in the job market,” explained Dr. Barry Moore, METC SPP Chief.
One thing that was born from this initiative, said Moore, was the METC Degree Bridge Program. Many career fields require degree completion to acquire licenses and other credentials. In medicine, the credential determines whether someone can qualify for civilian employment.
The METC Degree Bridge Program is a collaborative effort between METC’s SPP staff and program directors, and civilian colleges and universities throughout the country to develop degree pathways for service members. The program provides active duty, National Guard, and Reserve service members and veterans a means to earn a college degree in a variety of allied health and related career fields more quickly by receiving credit for their military service and training.
A service member does not have to be a METC graduate to participate; they only need to have graduated from a program that has a degree bridge created for it. Members who graduated from a program before it transferred to METC or from a program that no longer exists can still qualify; however, there is no guarantee that a school will offer the same amount of credit that a recent METC graduate would earn.
Master Sgt. Adrian Welch, U.S. Army Reserve Senior Career Management Non-Commissioned Officer at the U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence, took advantage of the METC Degree Bridge program years after graduating from the Army’s 91W Healthcare Specialist course (now the 68W Combat Medic Specialist Training Program) in July 2003, several years before METC was established.
In fact, Welch earned two college degrees through the METC Degree Bridge program.
“I previously had bad experiences with traditional brick and mortar schools after high school,” shared Welch. “I ended up dropping out of college to enlist in the Army. I also found it frustrating when I went back to college in my early 20’s and attended a community college that didn’t accept any of my previous college credits. I didn’t want to start from scratch, so I jumped at the opportunity when I first learned about (METC) degree bridge programs that accepted my military education as constructive college credit.”
Welch earned an Associate of Science in Health Science degree in November 2017, followed by a Bachelor of Science in Health Science degree in January 2022. “After completing my associate degree and being comfortable with the online education platform, I started future planning what I wanted to pursue with my post-military career. After researching various bachelor’s degree plans, I found one that correlated with where I wanted to be after I retire and, honestly, was worth the time and effort to earn it.”
After completing both degrees while only utilizing tuition assistance, Welch didn’t have to use any part of his Post-9/11 GI Bill and had the option to transfer those benefits to his son if he chooses to attend college when he gets older. “Giving him that option and providing him opportunities I never had alleviates a lot of financial stress when I start long term planning for my next chapter after the military,” he stated.
The Degree Bridge program has grown exponentially since Welch earned his degrees, from 60 academic partners in 23 states and 1,000 degree pathways in 2017, to 90 partners in 32 states and Washington, D.C. in 2023, offering more than 2,645 degree bridge pathways supporting METC graduates. A new Doctor of Health Science degree bridge was recently added, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Health Science – Military Physician Assistant Preparation (BSHS MPAP) to help fill a void in strongly compatible degree bridges for graduates of the METC Air Force Independent Duty Medical Technician program.
According to Moore, METC instructors and graduates of METC programs receive credit hours for completion of their military medical training and can pursue associate, bachelor’s, and master's degrees. There are even unique options empowering graduates to move from an associate to master’s degree in a single program.
“There is an abundance of options for most graduates to earn degrees within their specific occupation or to earn global healthcare, leadership, management, business administration, and other degrees,” stated Moore. “Our partnering efforts and the granted transfer credits save the government and service members thousands in tuition fees and empower some students to earn degrees in half the time when compared to most traditional degree plans.”
Welch said he definitely recommends other service members look into the METC Degree Bridge program.
“Having completed two degrees in a four-year timeframe was stressful and difficult at times but setting those goals and achieving them is beyond personally rewarding, not only for being competitive in my current military career but also setting myself up for success in my post-military career.”
Take advantage of the METC Degree Bridge program by visiting https://www.metc.mil/Academics/Degree-Bridge-Program, then clicking on the relevant training department name followed by program name.