by Morgan Cheeks
With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, analysts estimate that nearly 30 million Americans will be newly insured by the end of this decade, drastically increasing the need for primary care health workers. The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortage of 90,000 physicians by 2020.
However, the rising cost of higher education in the United States makes student loan debt a growing concern for students bound for the medical professions. As a result, high-paying specialties are more attractive to aspiring health professionals, causing primary care specialties to be understaffed.
To combat this growing problem, many universities and government entities have developed programs to incentivize physicians and allied health professionals to work as primary care providers in medically underserved areas across the United States. The National Health Service Corps (NHSC), launched under the direction of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, offers cost sharing programs to professionals in various stages of their careers.
A student in an accredited school studying to become a physician (MD or DO), dentist (DDS or DMD), nurse practitioner, certified nurse-midwife, or physician assistant, can earn scholarships for serving communities with limited access to care. Upon graduation and completion of training, eligible students must agree to provide care at an NHSC-approved site in a high-need Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA).
Students in their last year of medical school (MD or DO), are eligible for the Students to Service Program, a loan repayment initiative that provides participants up to $120,000 in return for 3 years of service at an NHSC-approved site. Current physicians are eligible to apply for the Full and Part-Time Loan Repayment Programs and can receive up to $60,000 and $40,000 respectively for two years of service at an NHSC-approved site.
The National Health Service Corps isn’t the only program of its kind. There are also state loan repayment programs, some of which are federally funded cost-sharing grants that help states operate their own repayment programs. Additionally, universities all over the world provide scholarships for students aspiring to enter primary care specialties in the United States.
CityDoctors, for example, is a program jointly sponsored by New York’s Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) and St. George’s University, Grenada, that provides academic and need-based full and half scholarships for eligible NYC residents to attend St. George’s University School of Medicine. In return, each student commits to works as a primary care physician at one of HHC’s eleven New York hospitals. There are programs such as this for residents of nearly every state.
For students interested in conducting research as part of their medical career, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provides up to $35,000 per year for loan repayment to individuals with a health professional doctoral degree who conduct one of the following types of research: clinical, pediatric, health disparities, or contraception and infertility.
Whether you’re interested in becoming a Physician Assistant, or a researcher seeking to reduce health disparities, there are many programs that make helping communities in need a financially rewarding experience as well.