America does not have enough doctors. Demand for physicians, especially primary care physicians, continues to grow faster than supply. Part of the problem is that aging doctors are retiring and young doctors are choosing specialties more lucrative than primary care.
Jennifer Knight, a first-year medical student at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine (HWCOM) wants to help change that, and she’s getting help from the federal government. Knight is HWCOM’s first recipient of the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Scholarship awarded by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
The award is an incentive for students to practice primary health care in underserved urban, rural and frontier communities hardest hit by the doctor shortage.
“Too many Americans—particularly in underserved areas—go without checkups, preventive screenings, vaccines, routine dental work and other care, simply because there are not enough providers,” says the NHSC.
The program recruits medical, nursing, physician assistant and dental students. The scholarship pays for full tuition and fees and includes a monthly stipend of $1,300 for expenses. In return, “for every year of financial help that they give you, you give back a year of service in a federally qualified health center serving populations that lack access to medical services,” says Knight.
Knight’s scholarship is for two years, the minimum; but she can later apply for additional years. The maximum is four years. She feels it’s a great deal.
“I’ll be getting paid to do what I want to do, and I don’t have to worry about paying off a huge student debt,” she says.
The Association of American Medical College reports a median medical school debt of $200,000.
The NHSC scholarship is similar to the military’s Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP), which covers full tuition for medical students in the military in exchange for four years of active duty service after residency.
NHSC Scholarship recipients also don’t report to work until they complete their residency training, but they must specialize in one of the following primary care areas: family medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, and psychiatry.
Knight is one of 1,480 students and residents nationwide currently preparing to serve in the program.