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My Experience with the NHSC Loan Repayment Program

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The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program offers primary medical, dental, and mental and behavioral health care clinicians the opportunity to have their student loans repaid while earning a salary in exchange for serving in underserved, rural, or tribal communities with access to care. Read on for my experience with receiving a $50,000 service award from the NHSC Loan Repayment Program (NHSC LRP) for completing two years of full-time service as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. 

I first learned about this program from a licensed clinical social worker during graduate school. They knew I was stressing out about finances during that time and encouraged me to get clinical licensure as soon as I was able to in order to qualify for this loan repayment program. 

How did I prepare to apply for the NHSC LRP? 

During the time I was unlicensed, I would go into the NHSC LRP Application portal and read the requirements and program application guidance information so I knew what I would need by the time I would be ready to apply. One of the requirements is that you must be employed at an NHSC-approved service site that is located in a federally designated Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA). Therefore, I knew my first step would be to find employment at an NHSC-approved site before I could apply. 

How did I find NHSC-approved sites? 

NHSC encourages you to use their Health Workforce Connector site for job postings at NHSC-approved sites but it was not always up to date.  

I also recommend that you use the HPSA Find site to identify all the HPSA facilities in the area you are looking employment for and then go to the job boards of those employers to identify if they have any mental/behavioral health job openings. Make sure that you apply filters for HPSA discipline and only select “All HPSA Facilities.” Both the Health Workforce Connector and HPSA Find sites provide you with the HPSA Scores of the all sites. 

What was it like to secure a position at an NHSC-approved site? 

I earned my clinical licensure in January 2020 and because I really loved my job at that time I did not immediately begin searching for a position at an NHSC-approved site. However, the COVID-19 pandemic happened and my position was eliminated at the end of the year due to issues with funding.  

I began my job hunt in January 2021 focusing specifically on positions at NHSC-approved sites and applied to several positions at federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) in my area. I secured an interview the following month and was made a formal offer. I accepted and began my position as a Behavioral Health Consultant in an FQHC shortly after. 

What was the NHSC LRP application process like? 

The NHSC LRP application cycle typically opens in the spring so I was able to submit my application soon after I had started my new position. I found the application to be very easy and straightforward to complete.  

Check out the HRSA NHSC LRP page for specific application information including eligibility requirements and important dates. 

Part of your application requires that you submit the information of your employer and they will contact them to verify your employment. It is very important that the Point of Contact (POC) at your site submits the employment verification form on your behalf by the application deadline. 

What was the NHSC LRP selection process like? 

I submitted my application in early April 2021 and in July I received notice (also known as Confirmation of Interest) that I had been selected for a $50,000 service award for NHSC LRP for two full years of service. Once I confirmed that I was interested in receiving the NHSC LRP award, I was sent a contract to sign that set forth all the terms and conditions of participating in the LRP including the obligations and information on what will happen if the contract is breached. After you sign, the Secretary of Health and Human Services or a Designee needs to sign the contract so it can become effective. As soon as they sign it, your two years of service begin. For me, my service began in mid-August 2021. 

You do have a 60 day window to cancel the contract or at any time if you haven’t received your service award funds. 

What is the timeline for receiving the NHSC LRP service award funds? 

The NHSC LRP service award funds are deposited directly to your bank account. You provide them with your bank information some time after signing the contract. You can expect to receive the deposit of award funds within 90 days after the contract has been countersigned by the Secretary’s designee. I received my service award deposit a few days before the end of the 90 day period. 

It was the most exhilarating feeling to see this deposit in my bank account!

What to do with the NHSC LRP service award funds? 

You are supposed to use the service award funds to repay your student loans. However, you are not given guidance on how to go about doing so. Personally, I was nervous about holding onto so much cash in my bank account so I paid off $50,000 (plus $1067.57 of my own savings to fully pay off one of the loans) of my $60,000 student loan debt as soon as I could.

I felt an immediate sense of relief once this payment posted to my student loans account.

’ve also read online and personally know other people that have put their service award funds in an investment account. They choose to use their investment dividends and interest to pay for their monthly student loan payment. Their argument is that their student loan debt is so high that their service award will do almost nothing to reduce their loan interest or monthly payments so they would rather just do it this way and accept that they will have student loan debt for the rest of their lives. This is obviously a risky decision as there is always is a risk of loss when it comes to investing. 

It’s almost important to mention that if you decide you would like to apply for a Continuation Contract with the NHSC LRP (for additional service award funds), that they will ask for proof that you utilized the original service award to pay of student loans. 

How does the NHSC LRP verify that you are still with your NHSC-approved site? 

Every six months, you will be requried to submit an In Service Verification form. They ask a few questions verifying your information and for the total number of days missed working at the site. The form is then submitted to the Point of Contact at your site and they will verify the information that you provided.  

It’s important to know that days missed involves all holidays and any PTO or sick time taken. If I remember correctly, you’re not allowed to miss more than 30 days during a year and if you do miss more, the number of days you missed will be added to your two years of service and therefore extending your service end date.  

What was my experience with asking for a site transfer? 

Around ten months into my service contract with the NHSC LRP, I decided that my job was not in alignment with my values, my skills, and the direction I wanted my career to go in so I decided to look for a new position at another NHSC-approved site. First, I sought guidance from the NHSC LRP support team on how to go about this and then proceeded with submitting job applications. I was able to find another position as a Bilingual Therapist at another NHSC-approved site and completed the Site Transfer form once I officially accepted the other.  

The whole process took about a month and I’m assuming it took so long because of COVID-19 and the backlog of work that NHSC had to work through. This ended up pushing my service end date by a month to September 2023 when it originally was scheduled to end in August 2023. 

What is the closeout process like? 

Once you submit your final In Service Verification form and your site POC verifies it, your account will read “Closeout Pending.” After a few weeks you will receive letter confirming and congratulating you for completing your service obligation the NHSC as well as a certificate of recognition. 

Reflection 

I am so glad I was able to participate in the National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program (NHSC LRP) because it was the best way for me to pay off the majority of my student loans. I went from owing $60k to just under $10k in the span of a few months.

Over the past few years I have told many colleagues about this program as there seems to be almost no one talking about it and its benefits. I highly recommend that you look into it if you are a licensed mental health professional and are looking for options for loan repayment. Please reach out if you have any questions! 

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Click here to read the full blog post titled "My Experience with the NHSC Loan Repayment Program as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker" on jessicatapia.com

Hi, I’m Jessica! I’m a licensed clinical social worker, entrepreneur, and wellness expert with a passion for helping others thrive. Join me as I offer practical tips and resources for fellow students, professionals, and anyone seeking wisdom on improving their well-being.



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