• Does the National Health Services Corps (NHSC) loan-repayment program really include psychologists? The Web site only mentions family practitioners and dentists.

Yes. Go to the site's application section at http://nhsc.bhpr.hrsa.gov/applications/ and look for the loan repayment frequently asked questions for a list of eligible professionals.

NHSC takes clinical and counseling psychologists and is looking for PhDs, EdDs and PsyDs who have graduated from an APA-accredited program. They must also be licensed and able to practice independently without supervision.

  • What are the requirements and benefits of NHSC loan repayment?

All applicants must make a two-year commitment to the program. For the first two years, NHSC will pay up to $50,000, depending on the applicant's outstanding balance of qualifying loans (if the balance is less than $50,000, the agency will pay the remaining amount). It's also possible to apply for extensions to the contract--called amendments--which are awarded if there is available funding. For the third and fourth years of service, participants can receive up to $35,000 each year. The repayment amounts diminish from there; however, those who still have debt may serve in the corps for seven years or more. These awards are also exempt from gross income and employment taxes.

  • If there is a 45 percent vacancy rate for psychologists, why do awards seem so hard to get?

The shortage isn't in spaces; it's in funding. In 2003, 2004 and 2005, all eligible, completed applications were funded. However, last year NHSC received the most applications ever--1,900--and had to turn away nearly 1,000 applicants due to lack of funding, notes Gary Hawley, PsyD, a loan-repayment recipient and ambassador for NHSC. Funding has been cut for federal year 2007 so that will make it slightly harder to find a position.

  • I've heard conflicting reports on whether I can wait to accept aposition until the NHSC loan repayment is approved, or whether I have to be willing to take the position regardless of the NHSC loan repayment?

Applicants must find a position at an NHSC community site and must at a minimum be in the final stages of negotiating an employment contract when they submit the loan program application.

  • NHSC state programs also repay loans--where do you find out about them and what's the difference in applying and repayment amounts?

NHSC provides matching funds to states for running their own loan programs. Benefits and eligibility requirements vary from state to state. Visit http://nhsc.bhpr.hrsa.gov/join_us/slrp.asp to learn more.

  • Do you have any tips for applying?

First, know what you're signing up for, says Hawley.

"Sometimes we find that we are doing a lot of hard work with very little resources, so make sure that you like the type of work you are doing," he notes.

Second, make sure to emphasize your commitment to working with the underserved.

  • When are the application deadlines?

The application deadline is at the end of March and all awards are distributed by September, says Hawley. The new application award cycle begins in the fall, and there is a rolling acceptance for those sites designated as high need until funds are depleted. After the March deadline, additional applications are considered if funding is available. Hawley encourages starting the process early, as it is time consuming.

  • I think my area should qualify as an underserved area--is there a process to be designated as an underserved area?

Yes. The requirements and details about applying to become a designated area can be found at http://bhpr.hrsa.gov/shortage/.

--L. Meyers