Doctors and other healthcare professionals do rewarding work, often saving lives. But the cost of becoming a doctor or medical professional is often astronomical. The average cost of one year of medical school at a public institution was $37,556 for residents and $62,194 for non-residents, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Private colleges are even costlier, with average costs for residents of $60,665 and $62,111 for non-residents. Other healthcare professions face similarly exorbitant costs due to the advanced training required to provide care for patients.
The good news is, there are student loan forgiveness options for healthcare workers who want to use their specialized skills for the public good. Some of these options include Public Service Loan Forgiveness, the National Health Service Corps, loan repayment programs through the National Institutes of Health, and an Indian Health Services Loan Repayment program.
There are specific qualifying requirements you have to meet for each of these programs, but if you can qualify, you can get ample assistance dealing with debts you took on in your pursuit of your education.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness
This program is open to anyone who works in a qualifying job — including working for a 501(c)(3) non-profit or working for the government on the state, federal, or local level — and who has eligible loans including Federal Direct Loans, Stafford Loans, and Direct Consolidation Loans.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness requires healthcare professionals to make 120 payments on their loans under a qualifying repayment plan, which includes several different income-driven repayment plans. These payments must be made while the doctor or other care worker is doing public service work full time, which is defined as working 30 hours per week or meeting the employer’s definition of full time.
Healthcare professionals who are still working at an eligible job after 120 payments have been made can have the remaining balance of their loan forgiven.
The National Health Service Corps
The National Health Service Corps operates a loan repayment program open to U.S. citizens who work as healthcare providers in certain fields. Qualifying professionals include primary care medical providers, dental care providers, and mental healthcare providers including psychologists; licensed clinical social workers or professional counselors; marriage and family therapists; and physician’s assistants.
This program provides up to $50,000 in loan repayment funds for full-time workers or up to $25,000 in repayment help for part-time workers who work in a Health Professional Shortage Area for at least two years. The specific amount of available funding is determined based on a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) score that considers both the level of need within each community as well as the specialization of the care provider.
Eligible medical professionals can submit an online application, although applications are accepted only during certain times of the year. Interested would-be applicants can sign up by email to be notified when each year’s application cycle opens. The application must include proof of student loan balance, and priority is given to care providers who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and who are likely to continue serving in health shortage areas after completing their service commitment.
National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Programs
Health professionals interested in biomedical or biobehavioral research careers may be interested in the NIH Loan Repayment Program.
This program repays up to $50,000 per year of eligible educational student loan debt, capping each researcher’s annual award at 1/4 of the total eligible loan balance. To become eligible, healthcare professionals must work in a qualifying research position either inside or outside of NIH. This could include, but isn’t limited to, clinical research positions, jobs in pediatric research, research into health disparities, AIDS research, and research into contraception or fertility.
Student loans are repaid in an order determined by NIH, with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Loans repaid first followed by loans obtained through the Department of Education, then state-guaranteed student loans, then student loans from schools and finally private student loans.
NIH Loan Repayment is open to U.S. citizens, nationals, or permanent residents with an M.D., Ph.D., Pharm.D., Psy.D., D.O., D.D.S., D.M.D., D.P.M., D.C., N.D., O.D., D.V.M., or equivalent doctoral degree from an accredited program. Physicians Assistants can also qualify, as can those with master’s degrees who are doing research into infertility and contraception. Applications can be submitted online,
Indian Health Services Loan Repayment Program
Health professionals who make a two-year service commitment to work in facilities serving Alaska native or American Indian communities can qualify for up to $40,000 in student loan repayment assistant. Loans eligible for repayment include those obtained while getting medical training.
Health professionals can apply online and must include supporting documentation including college or university transcripts; verification of employment at an eligible facility; and a license to practice. While any healthcare professional can apply, preference is given to American Indians, Alaska Natives, or recipients of Indian Health Services Scholarships.
If you are struggling with student loan debt, there are ways you can lower your student loan payments, including enrolling in an income-driven repayment plan, temporarily going on a deferment or refinancing high-interest private student loans to a lower rate. Refinancing federal student loans means a loss in many irreplaceable benefits, such as the potential for student loan forgiveness, payments based on your income, generous deferment options in the case of unemployment or economic hardship or potential loan cancellation proposed by Congress.
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