It seems that all nurse practitioner students and new NP grads have heard of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ lucrative National Health Service Corps (NHSC) loan repayment program. Designed to attract healthcare providers to areas of medical need, the program will pay up to $50,000 towards NP student loans in exchange for 2 years of employment in a medically underserved area. Which nurse practitioners are eligible for these benefits?
Not every nurse practitioner willing to practice in an underserved area, termed Health Professional Shortage Areas, meets the criteria for the NHSC loan repayment program. The program operates on a limited budget and allocates loan repayment to nurse practitioners based on a specific set of criteria.
Eligibility Requirements for NHSC Loan Repayment
At the most basic level, nurse practitioners must be U.S. citizens or U.S. nationals, able to participate as a provider in Medicare, Medicaid, and other health insurance programs, as well as have a current license to practice to their full scope without restrictions to be eligible for NHSC programs. Applicants to the NHSC loan repayment program may not have a history of defaulting on other federal payment or service obligations. Nurse practitioners with an outstanding obligation to provide service to the federal government such as the NURSE Corps loan repayment program may not participate in the NHSC program simultaneously.
Similarly to applying for educational scholarships, the NHSC lists a host of other qualities it looks for in determining which nurse practitioners will receive coveted loan repayment funds. Not all nurse practitioners who simply meet eligibility criteria make the cut.
The NHSC loan repayment program gives preference to nurse practitioners that are likely to continue to serve in a Health Professional Shortage Area once their two year service commitment ends. Generally, this decision is based on prior work and volunteer experience with underserved populations. Preference is also given to applicants identified as coming from “disadvantaged backgrounds”. This determination may be based on environmental and/or economic factors.
Qualifying Medical Practices: Location and Specialty Count
Adult, family, pediatric, geriatric, psychiatric-mental health, and women’s health nurse practitioners may be eligible to receive NHSC loan repayment funds. These nurse practitioners must practice at a qualifying site, generally in the primary care setting. Qualifying sites are assigned a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) score. Sites with a score of 14 or higher are considered in greatest medical need. Nurse practitioners practicing in these locations may be eligible for the full $50,000 loan repayment award. NPs practicing in locations with an HPSA score of less than 14 may be awarded loan repayment in a reduced amount.
Inpatient hospital settings do not qualify for NHSC loan repayment. Some nurse practitioner positions do include hospital duties or rounding, so the NHSC specifies a minimum number of hours that must be spent each week on direct patient care on the outpatient setting. Additionally, the NHSC does not recognize patient’s homes as approved sites so home health nurse practitioners do not qualify for the program.
How Do Qualifying Nurse Practitioners Apply for the NHSC Loan Repayment Program?
NHSC loan repayment opportunities are highly competitive. Nurse practitioners wishing to apply for these awards must have accepted a position at an approved practice site, submit an application for the program, and commence their employment within a strict set of deadlines. Certain types of student loans do not qualify for federal loan repayment so make sure to review the complete set of guidelines put forth by the NHSC program before applying for these opportunities.
The NHSC loan repayment program is a great way for nurse practitioners to reduce or eliminate student loan debt. If you don’t qualify for the program, you still may be eligible to receive other types of loan repayment aid. Many times employers will contribute funds toward helping pay down student loan debt. In some cases, jobs held in non-HPSA locations pay significantly higher salaries than do qualifying locations conferring similar financial benefits.
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