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New health care law helps expand primary care physician workforce

Posted Feb 13 2012 12:01am

National Health Service Corps awards $9.1 million to place physicians in medically underserved communities

The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) awarded $9.1 million in funding to medical students in 30 States and the District of Columbia who will serve as primary care doctors and help strengthen the health care workforce, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced today at the Eisner Pediatric and Family Medical Center, a community health center in Los Angeles, Calif.

Made possible by the Affordable Care Act (the new health care law), the National Health Service Corps’ Students to Service Loan Repayment Program provides financial support to fourth year medical students who are committed to a career in primary care in exchange for their service in communities with limited access to care.

“This new program is an innovative approach to encouraging more medical students to work as primary care doctors,” said Secretary Sebelius.  “This is an important part of the Administration’s commitment to building the future health care workforce.”

Administered by HHS’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Students to Service  is a pilot program that provides loan repayment assistance of up to $120,000 to medical students (MDs and DOs) in their last year of education.  In return, they commit to serve in a health professional shortage area upon completion of a primary care residency program.

“The average medical school debt of the students receiving these awards is more than $200,000,” said HRSA Administrator Mary K. Wakefield, Ph.D., R.N.  “The Students to Service program relieves a tremendous debt burden, allowing them to follow their passion for primary care and serve some of the country’s most underserved rural and urban communities.”

These newest NHSC providers must serve three years of full-time service or six years of half-time service in rural and urban areas of greatest need.

Today, alongside current NHSC members, Secretary Sebelius spoke with Eric Schluederberg, one of the awardees announced today and a 4th year medical student at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, Calif.  He was always attracted to the field of primary care, but the story of his fiancé, Nancy, who has Spina Bifida, has helped inspire him to serve in the NHSC and ensure that women get the pre-natal care they need.

“I always knew my calling was primary care, “Mr. Schluederberg said. “I’m not a social researcher, and I’m not an economist. But it seems that there are a lot of underserved people in this nation, and that providing sound primary care is a good economic investment. For example, ensuring that pregnant women know to take folic acid supplements is one way to prevent the cost of the numerous surgeries required to help someone with Spina Bifida become an independent member of society.”

With significant investment from the Affordable Care Act, thousands of new primary health care providers have been added to the ranks of the NHSC.  Today’s awardees will join the many NHSC providers already serving and providing culturally competent primary care at more than 14,000 health care sites in urban, rural, and frontier areas.

The NHSC provides financial, professional, and educational resources to medical, dental, and mental and behavioral health care providers who bring their skills to areas of the United States with limited access to health care. The NHSC was established in 1972 and has connected over 41,000 primary health care practitioners to communities all over America. 

For more information about NHSC programs, please visit http://www.NHSC.hrsa.gov .


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