The National Health Service Corps, or NHSC, is a government sponsored program that offers both scholarships and loan repayment to qualifying healthcare providers and professionals. This program offers these loan repayment options to physicians, advanced practice providers, and other healthcare providers who agree to work in medically underserved locations across the United States. The main goal of the NHSC is to connect primary care providers with patients in the most need of these services.
These underserved locations are typically very rural, urban, or isolated areas. Also included in this program are underserved Native American Tribal areas. These varying sites are scored based on a variety of factors. The scoring of these locations determines eligibility for and amount of loan repayment for providers. Loan repayment awards can be up to $50,000 for 2 years of contracted service.
Do I qualify?
Many types of primary care providers qualify for loan forgiveness through the NHSC Loan Repayment Program. Qualifying providers can be split into three main categories: Primary Care Providers, Dental Providers, and Behavioral and Mental Health Providers.
Primary Care Providers include Physicians (MD or DO), Physician Assistants, Nurse Practitioners, and Certified Nurse Midwives. In order for these providers to qualify, they must work in Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, OBGYN, or Geriatrics.
Dental Providers also qualify for this program. Dentists (DMD and DDS) and Dental Hygienists both are eligible for loan repayment if they work at a qualifying, medically underserved site.
Possibly the broadest group of qualifying providers falls into the category of Behavioral and Mental Health Providers. This group included Psychiatrists, Physician Assistants, Nurse Practitioners, Psychologists, Social Workers, and qualified licensed counselors. These providers qualify – with the caveat that they must be currently working at a qualifying, underserved, mental health treatment clinic or facility. It is important to note that other mental health providers may also qualify through the Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Workforce Loan Repayment Program, which will not be discussed in this article.
Job Search and Accredited Sites
So what exactly are these NHSC accredited sites? Generally, they are clinics or institutions that offer healthcare to patients, regardless of ability to pay. For the uninsured, these sites must offer some form of a small nominal fee, free services, or a sliding scale fee based on family income. These sites must also be located in a designated Health Profession Shortage Area (HPSA). In layman’s terms, this is any site that the NHSC has determined has limited medical care or inadequate primary care to meet the needs of the residents in that area. The NHSC states that all services rendered at their sites must also be “culturally competent and linguistically appropriate.”
The NHSC has an easy-to-use online job search tool. This feature allows users to search for NHSC loan repayment eligibility based on a variety of factors to include HPSA score, location, available jobs, discipline, etc.
How Much Repayment is Offered?
Loan repayment can clearly be game-changing when it comes to the job search process, so knowing how much is offered in repayment is very important. Essentially, the amount offered to individual recipients is based on the HPSA score of the specific underserved site.
HPSA scores range from 0-25, with higher scores typically offering the most loan repayment. Scores are calculated based on four criteria: population-to-provider ratio, percent of the local population below the federal poverty line, infant health index, and travel time to the nearest source of care.
If the HPSA score is high enough, up to $50,000 is offered in loan repayment after a two-year, full-time contract is served. Up to $25,000 is offered in the same situation with part-time service. It should be mentioned that these are the maximum amounts, and many recipients receive less than this. Fortunately, NHSC loan repayment can be applied to federal, state, local, and private education-related loans.
The Application Process
There are a few ways to qualify for NHSC loan repayment. For the purposes of this article, the process will be split into two sections: searching for an NHSC approved site and getting your workplace approved for NHSC loan repayment.
The first method to attain NHSC loan repayment is probably the easier of the two paths. This process involves two steps. First, you must be hired at an NHSC-approved, underserved site; after this, the applicant must complete an online application through the BHW Online Portal. After this application is processed, the determination is made regarding approval for loan repayment.
The second method to attain NHSC loan repayment is more complex, as it involves getting your current workplace approved as an NHSC loan repayment site. The approval process runs on a yearly cycle, and is typically open to new applications for about 6-8 weeks. The specifications to be approved are numerous and complex, and can be found here.
Some Closing Thoughts
The NHSC Loan Repayment program is a wonderful way to get student loans paid off while performing vitals services to America’s medically underserved populations. Whether through primary care, mental health, dental, or substance abuse services, there is likely to be an option available to you if you have a passion for serving the underserved. Many providers have had student loans paid off through this program, and the NHSC is always accepting new applicants.
While this article covers NHSC Loan Repayment for providers in primary care services, it is important to mention that there are other, adjacent programs available to applicants to help with student loan payments. These include the NHSC Scholarship Program, the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program, the NHSC Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Workforce Loan Repayment Program, and the HRSA Faculty Loan Repayment Program.