Transforming the NHSC – Meet the PA Pioneers of Students to Service
By the end of 2021, over 86 million Americans were living in areas with a designated shortage of primary care providers. To improve access to primary care services for these patients, HRSA administers a variety of scholarship and loan repayment programs through the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) that direct health professions students and clinicians to practice in underserved communities. One such program is the NHSC Students to Service program, which provides eligible students with up to $120,000 in loan repayment assistance in exchange for a three-year full-time or six-year part-time service commitment treating vulnerable populations at an NHSC-approved site.
Prior to 2021, the Students to Service program limited participation to medical, dental, nurse practitioner, and certified nurse midwife students. However, following a sustained advocacy campaign spearheaded by PAEA and AAPA, PA students were able to participate in this year’s application cycle for the very first time. To celebrate this milestone for PA education and gain a better understanding of how this new opportunity will impact both patients and the profession, PAEA reached out to several PA students who received this historic award and asked them the following questions.
What made you want to work with underserved communities?
For Margaret Hazelton from UT Southwestern, her desire to treat patients in need began at a young age. Raised in an underserved area, Margaret’s strong desire to give back to her community paved the way for her to become a clinician that provides patients with comfort, compassion, empathy, and quality care. Margaret shared, “I think many people go into healthcare unsure of where they are meant to work or what they should do, but I knew that this was my calling and that I could relate to underserved communities while addressing the financial and social barriers that come with it.”
Similarly, Victoria Kottyan from the Yale Online PA Program reflected on how her upbringing influenced her decision to practice in underserved communities. “Growing up in rural southeast Ohio, I saw first-hand how poverty and geographical location can impact access to quality healthcare. After leaving southeast Ohio for North Carolina, I discovered that these populations were something I remained passionate about.” Victoria continued, “I feel that these populations, while underserved and underinsured or uninsured, often were filled with motivated patients who wanted to get the most out of their healthcare. They were thankful for providers willing to donate their time and expertise to help them find a way to better health.”
Stephanie Powdar from UT Southwestern had a different path and drew passion for the underserved from a mission trip in Haiti. Stephanie recounted a particular experience while supporting ocular surgeons during a cataract surgery. “A blind woman came to her surgery performed by the doctors from America in her best white clothes. I knew instantly that this surgery meant everything to her. I knew then that if I was lucky enough to be a medical provider one day, I wanted to provide care for people in medically underserved communities like hers.”
Why did you decide to apply for this loan repayment opportunity?
Whitney Kinsey from the Yale Online PA Program had always wanted to work for an FQHC after graduation. As someone navigating PA school in their mid-30s, Whitney expressed great concern over the loan repayment process once her studies had concluded. Upon learning that the NHSC Students to Service program was available to PA students, Whitney jumped at the opportunity to apply. Whitney noted that, “the bonus of getting help with my student loans made the decision to work for an [federally qualified health center] a no brainer!”
While attending Springfield College, Ellie Lohnes was struggling to find a way to make ends meet. After researching the array of options available to finance her education, Ellie came across the NHSC Students to Service program, which fit her needs perfectly. Ellie explained, “I like that with NHSC I can choose to work in a primary care setting or a more acute setting in an underserved area. I appreciate that while I am working to pay back my schooling, I am able to get experience and work in communities that I find fulfilling.”
As a woman of color, Margaret Hazelton knew that becoming a healthcare provider was her calling and that she needed to show people that look like her that they can do it too. Margaret shared, “This program gives me the chance to not have to stress over loans while I give back to the community by providing primary care in underserved areas.” In addition, Margaret hopes to see more and more PAs who have an interest in practicing primary care in underserved areas take advantage of this new loan repayment opportunity with the NHSC.
What do you hope to accomplish as a clinician in a health professional shortage area?
By working in a health professional shortage area, Elexis Stephens from UT Southwestern hopes to empower patients to take initiative and advocate for their health. Elexis believes that, “providing opportunities for improved health outcomes and addressing social determinants of health begins in communities.” She continued, “As a PA in a health professional shortage area, my goals are to provide quality compassionate healthcare, increase access to care, and improve patient outcomes to un-insured and under-insured populations.”
Hannah Jeffrey from the George Washington University PA program outlined two personal goals for working in a health professional shortage area. “The first is to deliver high-quality, integrated healthcare to some of the most underserved populations, particularly patients who are unstably housed or experiencing substance use disorders. The second is to extend my reach beyond individual patients by becoming an advocate for my patients to address the systemic causes that heavily contribute to the underlying health of the population.” Currently, Hannah is looking to fulfill these goals at a federally qualified health center in the Washington metropolitan area.
Upon graduating from the University of Kentucky, Kaitlin Bush hopes to achieve a strong bond and trust with all her patients. Kaitlin explains, “Since the COVID pandemic started, some light has been shed on the fact that many Americans, especially in underserved areas, have a level of mistrust for the healthcare system. Therefore, my goal is to provide care and patient education that will allow them to trust me enough to seek help when it’s needed.”
Congratulations to all the PA students who received awards from the NHSC Students to Service program this year! PAEA looks forward to celebrating more PA student awardees in the years to come. Members and students with questions about the Students to Service program are invited to contact Tyler Smith at tsmith@PAEAonline.org.