There’s a reason so many kids dream of becoming a doctor. A career in the healthcare field can be very rewarding and offers many benefits. But it also takes years of education and training, which can be costly. The average amount of student debt for a medical school graduate is over $232,000, according to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Fortunately, there are a number of programs available that offer relief for healthcare workers with student debt. Whether you’re planning a strategy to borrow student loans for medical school, or you’re looking for help paying down existing loans, it’s a good idea to explore your repayment assistance options.
Federal Student Loan Payment Pause and Interest Waiver
Healthcare workers who have federal student loans can currently take a break from payments, thanks to COVID-19 relief measures that have been in place since March. In response to the global pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education placed all federal student loans in administrative forbearance and set the interest rates to 0% temporarily.
These relief measures were originally set to expire on Sept. 20, 2020, but have recently been extended through at least Sept. 30, 2021. The payment pause and interest waiver applies to all loans owned by the Department of Education, and does not apply to any private student loans.
Healthcare workers who want to pay down their student loan balance faster have the option to continue making payments during the forbearance period. Since the interest is currently waived, the payments will be applied to the principal balance. A smaller principal balance means less interest will accrue when the relief period ends.
Public Student Loan Forgiveness
Public Student Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is available to some full-time healthcare workers who work in public service. This includes doctors and nurses employed by a government organization, full-time AmeriCorps or Peace Corps volunteers, or healthcare workers working at a 501(c) (3) not-for-profit hospital. Borrowers must work at least 30 hours per week.
Borrowers who qualify have their loan balance forgiven after they make 120 qualifying payments. Other loans, such as Family Education Program loans, may be eligible for PSLF when they are consolidated into a Direct Loan.
NIH Loan Repayment Programs
The National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Programs are designed to help pay for advanced degrees for graduates who are interested in biomedical and biobehavioral research. Eligible borrowers may have up to $50,000 per year paid toward their student loans when they engage in research that is relevant to NIH’s mission.
Intramural programs are available to borrowers who are employed by NIH, and extramural programs are designed for non-employees. Qualifications vary by program, but both require the borrower to have an advanced degree such as M.D., Ph.D., D.D.S. or D.M.D.
National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program
The NHSC offers a student loan debt repayment program for primary healthcare workers who agree to provide care to those in need. Two years of service is required at an NHSC-approved site that has a shortage of primary, dental or mental healthcare providers.
According to the program’s website, it takes three weeks to apply. Borrowers who are selected as an award finalist receive an email asking to confirm their interest. Eligible primary healthcare providers may receive up to $50,000 in loan repayment assistance. Other awards are also available for substance abuse disorder counselors, pharmacists, registered nurses and certified registered nurse anesthetists. The application window is scheduled to open in early 2021.
The NHSC also offers the ISH Loan Repayment Program, which pays up to $40,000 in eligible student loans for American Indians and Alaskan natives. To qualify, borrowers must work in a healthcare facility serving an American Indian or Alaskan community for two years.
Nurse Loan Corps Loan Repayment Program
Licensed registered nurses, nurse practitioners and nurse faculty at an eligible nursing school with qualifying remaining nursing student debt can apply to the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program. To be eligible, borrowers must be employed and work at least 32 hours a week.
The program pays 60% of outstanding student loans to qualifying nurses and faculty who work two years in a service area such as a Critical Shortage Facility or an eligible nursing school. Borrowers who complete an optional third year of service will receive an additional payment of up to 25% of their student loan balance.