With 32 counties in Texas being without a family practice physician, it's no secret that rural Texas needs physicians. Recently, to attract more physicians to rural settings, the Texas legislature lifted a longstanding ban prohibiting rural hospitals from employing physicians. The ban was a result of a Texas statute, dating back to the 1800s, prohibiting corporate interference in medicine. But with the lifting of the ban, physicians can be employed by a hospital, rather than risk starting an independent practice in rural areas where residents are more likely to be uninsured or covered by Medicare or Medicaid.
In addition, federal and state governments have developed financial incentives to make rural medicine more attractive to young physicians. These incentives, including loan-repayment programs and scholarships for physicians who commit to serving in rural Texas for a period of time, can be a good option for future physicians who are looking for ways to ease the burden of medical school costs. According to a 2010 study by the Association of American Medical Colleges, medical students graduate with an average of $157,944 in school debt.
Here are several programs to help physicians who want to work in rural and under-served communities:
» The Outstanding Rural Scholar Recognition Program, offered through the Texas Department of Agriculture, helps rural communities "grow their own" healthcare professionals by providing loan repayment for healthcare professionals who return to their rural communities to practice.
» The National Health Services Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program offers primary care physicians (and other healthcare professionals) the opportunity to have their student loans repaid for serving communities in need. To qualify, you need to be licensed in the state in which you wish to serve, find a job at an NHSC-approved site, apply to the program, and work at least two years at the service site.
» The NHSC Scholarship Program awards scholarships each year to students pursuing careers in primary care. In return, students commit to serving for two to four years in communities with limited access to care. The scholarship includes tax-free payment of tuition, fees, other reasonable educational costs, and a monthly living stipend (taxable), as well as assistance with finding a job at a high-need, NHSC-approved site.
» The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program offers loan forgiveness for those who work in public service jobs through a federal, state, or local government agency or a qualifying non-profit organization. Borrowers may be eligible for loan forgiveness of the remaining balance due on their federal student loans after they have made 120 payments on those loans while employed full time by one of these public service employers.
» The Physician Education Loan Repayment Program, offered through the State of Texas, provides loan repayment funds to physicians who agree to practice in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) for at least four years. While this program is not taking new applicants at this time due to budget shortfalls, the program will resume as funds allow.
Some rural Texas communities are reducing or eliminating business taxes for physicians who wish to relocate, and offering housing at considerably reduced prices and interest rates. Check with the local city councils in the area that you'd like to serve to find out more.
To learn more, read about one physician's experience practicing medicine in a rural Texas community, and how he took advantage of the NHSC Scholarship Program.