Kim wants to return to school but hears other nurses talk about how expensive it is. She knows how important it is to her career to get her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree, but the thought of going into debt to the tune of thousands of dollars is holding her back.
Maybe you have graduated nursing school, but now face a large nursing loan payment every month. Or perhaps, like Kim, you want to go back to school but shirk at the thought of immersing yourself in debt that you will carry for years.
But what if you could earn your degree, and then have the majority of your nursing student loan paid off by the government?
Programs exist that combine gaining experience, immersion in a different culture, adventure with paying off nursing school loans. If this sounds interesting and you are excited to learn about other cultures, this might be the way for you to fund or pay off your graduate nursing degree schooling.
Nurse loan repayment programs are administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), a division of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and designed for healthcare professionals who commit to work in underserved areas with underserved populations for a minimum of two years.
Many nurses who have participated in these programs have found the experience to be life changing. It’s professionally fulfilling and personally rewarding to give back to people who otherwise lack access to care.
Opportunities exist to live and work with native Hawaiians, Alaskans, and American Indians, among others, in diverse settings across limited access communities.
Medically Underserved Areas (MUAs)
One of our nation’s most pressing health problems remains lack of access to preventive, primary, and acute care services by people living in inner cities and in rural, semi-rural, and frontier communities.
Many of these people live in officially designated medically underserved areas (MUAs). MUAs are so designated according to four variables :
- Ratio of primary medical care physicians per 1,000 population
- Infant mortality rate
- Percentage of the population with incomes below the poverty level
- Percentage of the population age 65 or over
MUAs are characterized by low population density, disproportionate numbers of poor and elderly, vast distances, and small hospitals. Large numbers of people living in MUAs suffer from worsening chronic conditions and lack of preventive care. Barriers to care include poverty, lack of reliable transportation, lack of health care facilities, and lack of health care professionals to staff facilities.
Nurse-to-population ratios are generally much lower for rural areas than for urban areas. Surprisingly, not all MUAs are in remote areas. A small town only 30 minutes from a large urban where I lived is a designated MUA and nurses who work in its one critical shortage facility hospital are eligible for loan reimbursement.
Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA)
A Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) is a designation determined by the HHS Secretary of a healthcare workforce or provider shortage. A HPSA designation can be made for a geographic area, population group or health care facility.
There are 3 types of HPSA designations: Primary Care, Dental, and Mental Health. Many Federal and State programs use HPSA designations in determining eligibility.
For example, National Health Service Corps (NHSC) (see below) clinicians must complete their service obligation at approved sites with a HPSA designation. Eighty-three percent of those awards in 2015 were made to nurses working in Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs).
To be eligible you must:
- Be a licensed registered nurse (nurse practitioners and other advanced practice nurses are encouraged to apply) or nurse faculty
- Have completed your training (diploma, associate, baccalaureate or graduate) an accredited educational program
- Be employed full time (at least 32 hours per week) at a critical shortage facility
- Be a U.S. citizen (born or naturalized) or National and Lawful Permanent Resident
- Have graduated from an accredited school of nursing located in a U.S. State
Funding preference is based on your financial need and the facility where you work. Priority funding is given to clinicians working at a site with a HPSA score of 14 or higher, which corresponds to greater need.
Critical Shortage Facilities
NURSE Corps members (see below) work at many different types of critical shortage facilities.
Critical shortage facilities are designated as, or serve a primary medical care HPSA.
Critical Shortage Facilities can be public or private nonprofit. Examples include:
- Critical Access Hospital
- Health Centers
Because you must be working in a critical shortage facility to qualify, you can refer to the NHSC Jobs Center to help find a job at a designated facility.
Underserved Schools of Nursing
In addition to working in a critical shortage facility, you can serve as faculty at an underserved nursing school. Eligible nurses work as faculty at accredited schools of nursing. Funding preference is awarded to applicants working at schools where at least half of the enrolled students come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Eligible schools of nursing are accredited by a national or regional nurse education accrediting agency or state approval agency recognized by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.
NURSE Corps Loan Repayment
The NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program pays 60 per cent of outstanding and qualifying educational nursing student loans in return for a 2 year commitment in an underserved area.
Enlisting for an additional year is rewarded with an additional 25% of the original loan balance.
Applications are accepted once a year. The application closes in February of each year. Check NURSE Corps for opening application window information and dates for 2016. (Dates are not yet posted for 2016).
National Health Service Corps (NHSC)
NHSC is a federal program option for nurse practitioners (NPs) that includes tax-free loan repayment assistance to support qualified health care providers who choose to take their skills where they’re most needed.
NPs seeking loan repayment assistance and who prefer a high degree of autonomy should consider practicing in a MUA. The financial and personal benefits of working in a medically underserved area prove very rewarding and lead to high levels of career satisfaction and an excellent quality of life.
The next loan repayment application cycle is scheduled to open in early 2016. Find more information at National Health Service Corps (NHSC).
note: NHSC also offers a scholarship program for midwives and adult care NPs
Indian Health Services (IHS) Loan Repayment Program (LRP)
The Indian Health Services (HIS) Loan Repayment Program (LRP) pays up to $40,000 to cover nursing school loans in exchange for a two-year service commitment at an approved Indian health facility, which includes working with American Indians and Alaska Natives.
The IHS LRP application cycle begins Oct. 1 and runs through the Friday of the second full week of August. Applications are evaluated monthly beginning in January, or as soon as funds become available. Information is available at Indian Health Services.
Until next time friend,