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The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) offers loan repayment
assistance to support qualified health care providers who choose to
take their skills where they're most needed. Recently some NHSC
scholars were asked to share their experiences with the program.
Below are their thoughts:
My experience with the National Health Service
I just finished making my last payment to my medical school
student loan only 6 years after residency. This was only possible
because of the National Health Service Corps. I have completed 5
years with the Corps and have less than a year left with them. I
just got my last disbursement this week and paid the last of my
student loan off. As a primary care doctor, I would have never been
able to do this without the corp. I would have had to choose
between slowly paying off my loans over 30 years or sacrificing all
the goal I have like a bigger home and vacations to pay my loans
off in a shorter period of time. With the Corps help, I could move
on with my financial goals and still pay off this debt. This is
definitely the good part of the Corps. Additionally, unlike
employer base loan repayment programs, the Corp payments are not
Certainly there has been a price to pay for the Corps to
discharge my debt. When I initially applied to the Corps in 2008,
the process was very cumbersome. It took me weeks to complete the
application material. I had to constantly check up to make sure my
paperwork was being processed. I have had to continue that level of
attention throughout the process to make sure I didn't miss
deadlines and lose my benefits. Anyone who applies to the Corps
needs to know the rules and intend to follow them. Among the more
challenging rules is that they only allow 35 days (7 weeks) a year
off from the clinic. This may seem like a lot of days but when you
consider education leave, sick leave, holidays, and personal leave
days, I have more time I can take than the Corps will allow. This
has been the hardest part.
Overall the process and communication has improved compared to
when I started. However, the application process still remains a
bit difficult. Overall, I have been happy with the Corps. They
still need to improve their process but for someone who is willing
to keep their rules, it is a great option especially for primary
care doctors and their lower incomes.
Thoughts on NHSC scholarships
I first learned about NHSC as a teenager growing up in a rural
small town through a family friend who was fulfilling their service
obligation. After experiences in college that convinced me that I
wanted to pursue medicine with the goal of doing primary care
focusing on underserved populations, I found myself looking into
the NHSC scholarship program. I was lucky enough to get a
scholarship prior to starting medical school, and I accepted it for
four years. I pursued residency training in combined internal
medicine pediatrics, and I am now starting my fourth year
fulfilling my service obligation by working for the Indian Health
Service in a rural community doing inpatient and outpatient primary
I have now had experience with the NHSC program for the past
eleven years. Over this time, I have seen the program go through a
transition, with the goal of becoming more user-friendly and
supportive. When I first began, it was clear that I had an
obligation to fulfill and consequences if anything prevented me
from fulfilling that obligation. While that hasn't changed, the
organization appears to have more recognition at this time of
ideally placing participants in sites where they can meet the other
obligations in their lives and be happy, in the hopes that they
will stay longer than their service obligations.
At its heart, NHSC will put people where they are MOST needed.
When I counsel people considering NHSC scholarship I emphasize
this. It is important to realize that other potential career goals
(e.g., academic positions, fellowships, etc) and personal goals
(e.g., job possibilities for loved ones or specific geographic
locations) will not always align with the job possibilities
available when a scholar completes training and enters the job
market. I am grateful that I am without the large amount of debt of
many of my peers, which gives me a lot of freedom while I consider
my future plans. However, I counsel potential NHSC scholars that if
they are not completely committed to primary care and/or cannot
anticipate being flexible with geographic locations and job
requirements in the future, it is generally better NOT to take the
scholarship and instead consider applying for NHSC loan repayment
when the time comes.
Information about the NHSC program can be found at http://nhsc.hrsa.gov/index.html.