In 1972, the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) was established as one of the largest investments made by the federal government to address maldistribution of the health workforce and expand access to care in underserved areas. Of the $430 million provided by Congress on an annual basis, NHSC funding is divided among several programs with PAs and PA students generally being eligible for the first three categories below:
- Federal Loan Repayments: $355,000,000
- State Loan Repayments: $15,000,000
- Scholarships: $38,000,000
- Students to Service Loan Repayment: $20,000,000
In 2012, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) created the NHSC Students to Service program to bolster the outcomes of the larger NHSC loan repayment and scholarship programs. While eligibility for the program was previously restricted to medical and dental students, nurse practitioner and certified nurse midwife students were just added as eligible disciplines earlier this month.
To ensure that eligibility is further expanded to include PA students, PAEA has partnered with AAPA on a joint advocacy campaign. On September 18, PAEA President Howard Straker, EdD, MPH, PA-C, and AAPA President Beth Smolko, DMSc, MMS, PA-C, sent formal comments to the Bureau of Health Workforce requesting this change. Straker and Smolko described the critical role of PAs as NHSC clinicians, the propensity of PAs to be retained in rural and underserved communities, and the need for equal access to federal programs such as Students to Service to incentivize graduates to practice in underserved areas.
PAEA received a response to the letter on October 1, indicating that the agency will explore eligibility expansion to PA students for the next application cycle. PAEA is committed to continue its engagement with HRSA leadership and outside stakeholders to ensure that this disparity for PA students is fully resolved and to promote equitable access for both students and faculty to all federal health workforce programs.
Members with questions about the NHSC or the Students to Service program are invited to contact Tyler Smith at tsmith@PAEAonline.org.