While the argument over whether there is a national physician shortage
has not been settled, there should soon be at least about 87 more primary-care doctors working in underserved areas where the lack of a healthcare workforce is not subject to debate.
The new doctors—spread out among 29 states, Washington and Puerto Rico—will split more than $10 million in medical school loan repayments issued by the National Health Services Corps. Up to $120,000 is being allocated to fourth-year primary-care medical students in exchange for a commitment to practice full-time for three years or part-time for six years in designated areas upon completion of their residency training.
“This new National Health Service Corps initiative is an innovative approach to encouraging more medical students to work in primary care, and to bring more primary-care doctors to communities,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a news release
Last year, about $9.1 million in loan repayments
was included in the program.
The National Health Services Corps program is not new. It was established in 1972, but the current Students to Service Loan Repayment Program initiative
provides more money than is typically offered
in return for longer service commitments.
The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 included $300 million for the NHSC, including $240 million for primary-care clinician recruitment. Of this amount, $196 million went into loan repayments, $24 million for scholarships, and $20 million went toward state loan repayment programs. In addition, about $60 million was to be used for NHSC “field operations” and about $1.5 million for administration and implementation, according to the HHS (PDF)
An HHS recovery program fact sheet
stated that nearly 250 scholarships and more than 4,000 loan repayments were awarded.
About 82% of clinicians who completed their service requirement continue to practice in the same community for at least a year, and 55% continue to practice in the same area for at least 10 years, according to a 2012 retention survey (PDF)
Of the 10,000 healthcare professionals in the NHSC program in September 2011, 29% were mental health providers, 25% were physicians, 16% were nurse practitioners, 14% were physician assistants, 12% were dentists and 2% were dental hygienists.