Stimulus money cuts debt for more students in return for NHSC service

HHS chief Sebelius hopes the millions in funding will bolster the ranks of primary care doctors and aid communities in need.

By Chris Silva — Posted June 23, 2009

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The Dept. of Health and Human Services on June 5 announced the availability of nearly $200 million from the federal stimulus package to support student loan repayments for medical, dental and mental health primary care clinicians who agree to work at National Health Service Corps sites.

In exchange for $50,000 in loan repayment, students will serve two years with the NHSC, which has provided scholarships and loan repayments for more than 30,000 doctors, dentists and other health care professionals since its inception nearly 40 years ago. The Corps operates in areas that are considered medically underserved. Clinicians also will receive a competitive salary in addition to the loan repayment, HHS said.

"NHSC has helped protect the health and well-being of millions of Americans," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "Now, we are doubling the Corps and putting doctors and clinicians in the communities where they are desperately needed."

The funds are expected to provide up to 3,300 repayment awards to clinicians who agree to serve in health centers, rural health clinics and other health care facilities that care for uninsured and underserved people. Sebelius made the announcement before touring the Tufts Floating Hospital for Children in Boston, where she was joined by members of the Corps.

"The health care professionals who heed this call to serve will join thousands of dedicated NHSC primary care clinicians already in the field," said Mary Wakefield, PhD, RN, administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration, which oversees the NHSC within HHS. "These funds will double both the number of Corps clinicians and the number of patients they care for, and spark economic growth in communities hit hard by the economic downturn."

A growing number of health policy organizations are advocating for better incentives to attract more medical students to primary care. The American College of Physicians estimates that the nation could face a shortage of 45,000 or more primary care physicians by 2025.

U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D, Pa.) introduced a bill in late May that would provide scholarships of up to $30,000 per year for students who agree to complete a residency in family practice, internal medicine or pediatrics at a facility that has a physician shortage.

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