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Nearly 70% of medical school graduates left school with debt in 2021, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. The median debt, not counting undergraduate education, was $200,000 per student.
It is a large sum to pay back.
If, like most medical school graduates, you went into debt to attend school, chances are you would qualify for student loan forgiveness. A healthcare worker’s salary, especially at the start of a career, does not always make it easy to track payments.
How does student loan forgiveness for healthcare workers work?
Like other public service employees, health care providers who work in nonprofit or government organizations may qualify for public service loan forgiveness. You can also enroll in an income-based repayment plan to pay off your federal loans. This reduces monthly payments to a percentage of your income, causing any remaining balance to be canceled after 20 or 25 years.
Beyond these widely available programs, there are also other options specific to healthcare workers:
- To obtain service-based student loan assistance, healthcare graduates often must commit to working in an underserved area, for a specific government agency, or in a high-need specialty.
- Several states have programs that offer loan repayment or forgiveness to health care providers working in health worker shortage areas (HPSAs). They can cancel a certain amount of debt after a period of service, but they often provide repayment assistance for a specified period to offset a participant’s loan bills.
8 loan forgiveness options for healthcare workers
Student loan repayment and forgiveness programs may limit the amount you have to repay. And it’s not just doctors who may qualify for student loan forgiveness based on their health services.
Student loan relief for nurses, nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, licensed clinical social workers, dentists, veterinarians, researchers and more all have programs available. Here are a few you should consider.
National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Programs
The National Health Service Corps, operated by the Federal Health Resources and Services Administration, offers three different loan repayment programs for health care providers. These offer loan repayment assistance in exchange for at least two or three years of service in some localities:
- NHSC Loan Repayment Scheme: This option is intended for medical, dental or mental health providers. In exchange for two years of employment at an HPSA, you can receive up to $50,000 in loan repayment for full-time work or up to $25,000 for part-time work. A contract extension beyond two years is possible, which can help you repay up to the outstanding balance of your loan.
- NHSC Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Scheme: This option is for trained and licensed substance use disorder treatment providers, particularly for opioid addiction. You must work in a primary care medical, dental or mental health discipline at an NHSC-approved substance use disorder treatment site in an HPSA. You can get up to $75,000 for three years of full-time work or $37,500 for part-time work.
- NHLC Rural Community Loan Repayment ProgramAlso geared towards drug and opioid addiction treatment providers, this program offers greater student loan repayment assistance if you commit to working in a rural area. You can earn up to $100,000 in assistance for three years of full-time work or $50,000 for part-time work.
The same application applies to all three programs, but you can only apply to one program in total.
NHSC Nurses Corps Loan Repayment Scheme
Nurses have the option of an additional loan repayment assistance program run by NHSC: Nurse Corps. If you are a registered nurse, advanced practice registered nurse, or nurse educator, you could have up to 85% of your outstanding nursing school debt paid off.
To qualify, you must be working at a critical shortage qualifying facility or an accredited nursing school at least 32 hours per week. The student loan repayment allowance is 60% of the debt repaid over two years, plus an additional 25% repaid for an optional third year.
National Institutes of Health (NIH) Loan Repayment Programs
Clinical researchers focused on biomedical or biobehavioral research may receive up to $50,000 in loan repayment per year from the NIH, whether they work in an NIH laboratory or for an outside employer on research deemed essential for the NIH.
You must have a doctorate, such as an MD, Ph.D., Pharm.D., Psy.D. or DDS, and your student loan debt must be equal to or greater than 20% of your salary.
Indian Health Services Loan Repayment Scheme
The Federal Indian Health Service provides up to $40,000 in loan repayment to clinicians who commit to two years of service at health facilities focused on Native American and Alaska Native communities.
A wide range of professions may qualify, from advanced practice nurses to physiotherapists (with a master’s or doctoral degree) to licensed acupuncturists.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Epidemic Intelligence Service Program
This two-year postgraduate fellowship is an opportunity for physicians, nurses, veterinarians, pharmacists, and more to investigate epidemiological outbreaks, natural disasters, or other public health issues for the CDC. You may be assigned to a national or local office or to CDC headquarters.
One of the benefits is up to $50,000 per year in student loan repayment, depending on the availability of funds. Only federal student loans are repayable.
In addition to federal agencies, many states offer pardon programs for healthcare workers. These programs often require participants to work in rural communities, HPSAs, or other high-needs areas.
Here are some examples of state-specific programs for healthcare workers:
- Georgia: Primary care physicians can earn up to $25,000 per year for four years when working full-time in rural Georgia through the Rural Physician Assistance Program.
- Ohio: Ohio’s Physician Loan Repayment Program also provides $25,000 per year in loan repayment for two years and $35,000 per year for optional third and fourth years to eligible healthcare workers in HPSAs.
Reward amounts and service commitments vary – and whether or not the reward amount is taxable as income depends on the program. To find state opportunities specific to your discipline, check with your school or explore lists maintained by industry organizations such as the Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Dental Education Association.
No matter what type of care you provide, you’ll most likely find a program that rewards you for working in places that particularly need your talents.
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