C.J. Davis, PsyD, loves small town life-going to church, knowing his neighbors, having the trust of his community. So, after licensure, he was pleased to find a way to both practice in a rural area and pay down student loan debts topping $90,000 through the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) loan-repayment program.

Davis paid off $50,000 in loans during two years working in a rural community in Missouri. Nationally, the loan-repayment program offsets the educational debt of medical professionals serving in areas with provider shortages. Providers must apply for the repayment, and there's a minimum of two years' service, but participants can apply for extensions.

Wanting to extend the opportunity to other young psychologists in training, Davis, now director of psychological and professional services at Royal Oaks Hospital in Windsor, Mo., helped design a program called the Heart of America Psychology Training Consortium. The program has placed 45 psychology interns in rural southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas over the past three years. This region, like many rural areas, has a shortage of mental health professionals, says Davis, Heart of America's executive director. The consortium provides yearlong internship opportunities at 10 training sites in a 13-county area.

Interns travel a circuit of rotations at training sites that include an in-patient psychiatric hospital, a county jail, a community medical center and an adolescent residential treatment facility.

The consortium obtained a $2.7 million grant to run a three-year internship from the Department of Labor in 2003. Davis hopes for an extension into a fourth round of internships this fall.

His ultimate goal is for interns to remain at the training sites in the program, continue to practice in underserved areas after licensure and to apply for NHSC loan repayment. In fact, expansion of such loan-repayment opportunities is an initiative of APA President Gerald P. Koocher, PhD.

John Howell, PhD, chair of psychiatry and behavioral health at Citizens Memorial Healthcare, has already seen the effort's benefits in and around the hospital's base of Bolivar, Mo., where interns are helping to manage a patient population with high rates of poverty, smoking and substance abuse.

Psychologist applications to the NHSC's loan-repayment program have increased significantly in the past five years, federal officials say. Last year, 122 new clinical psychologist applicants were accepted into the program and awarded loan repayment, a more than five-fold increase from 2000's total, says Susan Salter of the NHSC.

And though 331 clinical psychologists were working in underserved areas as of September 2005, a number of eligible vacancies went unfilled, Salter says.

Nina Levitt, EdD, associate executive director for APA's education policy office urges psychologists' participation in the NHSC.

"The APA Education Directorate has worked tirelessly for more than 10 years to increase psychologists' participation in the National Health Service Corps, and it is exciting to see such positive results from our efforts," Levitt says.

--C. Munsey