My name is Alex, and I’m an HRSA National Health Service Corps Scholar. I know that probably just sounds like a bunch of acronyms and random words put together, but it’s actually a long-winded way of saying that I am getting my dental school tuition paid for in full. If you’ve ever considered any kind of professional schooling in the health care field, you’re probably aware of the crazy price tag on your education. For me, that's at least $300K for four years of dental school—not an ideal way to enter my future career!

So, here is where NHSC comes in: 

NHSC is a federally funded scholarship program for people pursuing education to be a Physician (DMD, DO), Dentist (DMD, DDS), Nurse Practitioner (NP), Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM), or a Physician Associate (PA). Upon applying, you indicate the number of years you wish to seek coverage for, which can range from just 1 year to your entire time in school (I chose to apply for all 4 years of dental school). You will also need the information for the school you will be attending, some personal general and background information, and then 2 letters of recommendation (one academic, one non-academic). If you do receive the scholarship, you will serve in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) after you graduate for the number of years you received financial assistance for. Pretty straight-forward. 

But what’s the catch?

There aren't many drawbacks to this program. I am fortunate to get my (very expensive) schooling paid for, and on top of that I receive a stipend every month! The only thing that turns some people away form this opportunity is that if you do intend on pursuing a post-graduate training program, NHSC does limit your options in which area of interest you can defer your service for. For example, if you really want to do surgery after medical school, you’re going to have to wait until after your service in the HPSA is done and then apply into that residency program. Personally, I have always been interested in pediatric dentistry, so I’m lucky that they approve 2-year residency training programs before starting my committed service. Another thing that you must consider is the concept of working in an HPSA after graduation. Some people want to go straight into private practice or corporate settings—not into community clinics or rural areas. You do generally have the opportunity to choose your HPSA site once you graduate, and I would encourage you to look at the HPSA Job Portal on their website. 

Why did I choose NHSC?

I’ve long been interested in public health and volunteered in community clinics during my undergraduate years and gap year. I got to see first-hand the disparities existing in the health care field—especially dentistry—in the communities surrounding me. I knew that either during dental school or after, I would want to work within these communities in some capacity. To be able to do so through NHSC while also coming out of dental school with no student loans is a dream come true. They provide me with the flexibility to pursue my dental education while also giving me the financial freedom to enjoy other pleasures and hobbies at the same time. I look forward to finishing dental school and learning more about pediatric dentistry. Beyond that, I look forward to entering underserved communities and applying my knowledge and skills to making their lives a little bit better. 

Great, where can I learn more?

Feel free to browse their website: https://nhsc.hrsa.gov/scholarships/overview.

They also have other Loan Repayment Programs available if you’re already out of school too!

If you ever want to ask me more about my experiences or get additional information on applying, please feel free to leave a comment on this post.

Alex graduated from UCLA with a degree in Molecular, Cell & Developmental Biology. She's currently a National Health Service Corps Scholar at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM).

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