The National Health Service Corps, the federal program that brings health care to underserved populations, has received $300 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as the stimulus package. Of that, $200 million is being used for loan repayment awards for new corps hires and renewals for those who extend their service by one year—and psychologists are eligible. This money will fund 4,000 new positions on a first-come, first-served basis.
Psychologists who work for the NHSC typically serve for two years in underserved areas, primarily in community health centers. They provide mental health services to people who are disenfranchised either by geographic distance from urban health-care centers or by cultural and financial barriers. NHSC members, who also include physicians, nurses and dentists, are recent graduates looking to gain experience and pay off loans, says Nina G. Levitt, EdD, APA's associate executive director of government relations. In exchange for members' service, NHSC provides up to $50,000 toward loan repayment and a monthly stipend.
Right now, psychologists make up only about 10 percent of NHSC workers, because many underserved areas opt for psychiatrists or social workers instead, Levitt says. The bump in available positions presents a good opportunity for psychologists to assert their importance in primary-care settings.
"The bottom line is we need to get the word out to psychologists so they can get more involved," she says.