Medical students are bombarded with decisions regarding what they want to do with their lives, from choice of specialty to options within the field itself. Quite a few medical schools these days push for students to pursue primary care specialties. These include family medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine and (sometimes) psychiatry. There are many incentives offered for students to pursue these in-demand fields: scholarships, loan repayment options, etc. Below are a few opportunities for medical students who are set on primary care fields.
When I first entered medical school, I didn’t really have a specific field that I was interested in pursuing. I knew that I wanted to keep my options open, because I hadn’t gotten enough exposure to clinical medicine to know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. My school offered a scholarship to those who knew that they were going into primary care specialties: they received a significant stipend during the first year and their last year was fully paid for if they matched into a primary care residency. There were also geographic stipulations associated with it. I was not sure about either, so for me, that was not a great option. I would have rather taken on the additional debt in order to keep my options for the future. But this is a great opportunity for students who have already decided on primary care specialties. For example, one of my classmates’ fathers is a family physician in their small town. He’s the only one for miles around and my classmate will eventually take over his practice. In this case, it makes complete sense to apply for this scholarship! It greatly reduces the financial burden of medical school and rewards those who know exactly what they want to do and where.
National Health Service Corps
Another interesting option for such dedicated people is the NHSC scholarship, or the National Health Service Corps scholarship. There is an extensive application for this scholarship which is similar to an application for medical school. They require many of the same things: undergraduate GPA, MCAT scores, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, leadership, etc. I went online just to take a look and I was overwhelmed by how much they required from you. But if primary care is your calling, this is an option worth considering. Here’s how it works: the organization pays for medical school tuition in its entirety for the four years of attendance and awards a substantial monthly stipend for living expenses. They pay for everything. It’s an incredible deal, and because there are only a limited number of scholarships per year, it is also incredibly competitive. In exchange for the money, they require you to work in a Federally Qualified Healthcare Center (or FQHC) for the number of years that they paid for your education with a minimum 2-year service requirement. This is usually after the completion of residency. There are centers all over the country, even as far reaching as Hawaii. You do get to note your preference as to where you want to go, but they reserve the right to place you elsewhere if something does not work out.
If you don’t obtain a scholarship during medical school, the NHSC offers a loan repayment program for physicians who work in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA). I would explore that option, as it is a bit more flexible. Through this route, the candidate applies to the site of their choosing and if offered a position, accepts it. It gives the candidate a little more control over placement. Each site is given an HPSA score (Health Professional Shortage Area) which looks at various factors including primary care, dental health, mental health. Depending on that score, the amount of money awarded per year can vary. There are full-time and part-time tracks in this as well and candidates are eligible to receive up to $50,000 per year for a minimum two-year commitment.
New York University recently announced that it was going to waive tuition for all of its students years 1-4 thanks to a generous donor. As far as I know, there are no strings attached, but the goal of this move is to try to recruit more underrepresented minorities as well as increase the number of students who choose to pursue primary care specialties. The theory as to why students may forgo a primary care specialty to pursue something a bit more competitive is to reduce the burden of student loans. The higher paying the specialty, the easier and faster it is to repay that hefty loan. Providing tuition free of charge for all students may help fight this as money (or lack thereof) will hopefully play a more minor role in whether a student chooses primary care over something else.
The bottom line is that we are very short on primary care physicians, and the shortage is going to get even worse in the future. Medical schools are trying to encourage more students to pursue primary care, so if that’s something you would like to do, it may be worth looking into some of these financial incentives. Keep an eye out for part two of these amazing options, coming next month!