Itâ€™s no surprise that you acquire significant debt during your medical training. Here are some ways to get those loans paid off.
Oncology and hematology fellows are eligible for loan repayment programs (LRPs) for their medical education debts, but usually there’s a catch. The catch is that the applicant fellow must agree to commit to practicing for a specified time in a medically underserved region of the United States, in research at an approved institution (usually a medical school), or in the military.
Most LRPs are sponsored by national, state, and local governments, but a handful are offered by private organizations. Typically, after completing a residency, physicians can apply to practice in areas designated by the US Health Resources and Services Administration either as a Health Professional Shortage Area or a Medically Underserved Area. To qualify for this program, applicants are not required to come from any particular ethnic or racial background, but they must be willing to work full time serving patients in the designated areas.
The largest provider of LRPs is the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIH says that it is committed to encouraging outstanding health professionals to pursue careers in biomedical, behavioral, social, and clinical research. One of the objectives of the NIH Loan Repayment Program is to provide financial help to fellows who choose to stay in academic medicine by relieving some of their student loan debt. The NIH recognizes that salaries in academia usually do not match those in private practice, so the LRP seeks to help qualified fellows continue their careers in academic medicine.
If a fellow commits to at least 2 years of conducting qualified research funded by a domestic nonprofit organization or a US federal, state, or local government entity, NIH may repay up to $35,000 of qualified student loan debt per year, including most undergraduate, graduate, and medical school loans. Loan repayment benefits are received in addition to the institutional salary that fellows might earn for their research.
If a fellow is or will be conducting qualified research at a domestic nonprofit institution outside NIH, he or she may be eligible for an LRP in one of the 5 LRP categories.
An example of a nonprofit program is the one administered by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). It offers LRPs to a number of fellows each year. Applicants must be an associate or active ASCO member or submit a membership application with the award application. The program will repay up to $35,000 per year for 2 years (up to $70,000 total) of qualifying education debt. For application forms and complete application criteria, visit the ASCO Cancer Foundation Website at www.conquercancerfoundation.org/foundation and click on “Cancer Professionals” and then click on “Grants & Awards.”
Loan repayment programs are offered through the NIH at numerous medical institutions, including a pediatric oncology position at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York, and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Benefits vary, but on average participants are required to provide service for 2 to 4 years. Fellows can contact the financial aid office of medical schools for more information.
Armed Forces Loan Repayment Programs
The US armed forces are another major source of LRPs, through the Health Professionals Loan Repayment Program (HPLRP). Participants can receive up to $40,000 per year for 3 years. Fully trained clinicians are eligible for loan repayment in exchange for service in an eligible assignment. Financial grants are available for fellows who commit to active duty service and for those who choose to serve in the National Guard or Reserves.
National Guard Loan Repayment Program
For just about every specialty or field within the US Army Medical Department, the National Guard offers fellows a bonus and/or an LRP. With a 3-year service agreement, physicians can receive special pay for health professionals of up to $75,000, paid at $25,000 per year over 3 years. And with another 3-year commitment, the bonus may be renewable. The National Guard is seeking physicians, residents, fellows, and medical students in a variety of specialties, including medical oncology/hematology.
Combining 2 Careers: The Guard and the VA
Fellows can combine 2 paths into 1 career that fulfills a military service requirement as well as the medical needs of military patients. Selected fellows can work full time for the Veterans Health Administration and serve part time in the National Guard. By combining National Guard service and VA employment, applicants are eligible for education loan repayment assistance from both organizations. While the National Guard offers the HPLRP to qualifying members, VA medical professionals can benefit from the Education Debt Reduction Program (EDRP), which can eliminate up to $38,000 of your outstanding loans. For more information about EDRP, fellows can contact a local National Guard recruiter. The program also provides $2500 each year for continuing medical education (CME) credit.
Physicians who agree to serve in Reserve units, as in the National Guard, are eligible to receive the special pay for health professionals of $75,000, paid in yearly increments of $25,000 for 3 years. They are also eligible for medical school loan repayment of up to $50,000 over 3 years.
In addition to NIH, military services, and state LRPs, some private institutions provide grants to cover medical education loan debts, such as the Janet and Ray Scherr Fellowship Fund. The loan amount for this program is a maximum of $10,000 per individual. For every year after graduation that the trainee stays in academic pediatrics, one-half of 1 year’s repayment will be forgiven if the individual remains in a full-time academic pediatric position. For every year after graduation that the individual remains on the faculty at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, a full year’s repayment will be forgiven.
If you are interested in learning more about loan repayment programs, you can contact the NIH office that handles the programs (www.lrp.nih.gov), your local armed forces recruiter, your medical school outplacement office, or your employer’s human relations office. In addition, the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) maintains a database of state and other loan repayment programs for medical school students.
Matthew T. Corso is a veteran editor and writer who has worked in medical publishing for more than 25 years.