Kelvin Vu, DO, attends to a young patient at the Open Door Community Health Centers in northern California.
A rewarding opportunity

How the NHSC can help ease financial worries

Student debt can influence practice decisions. Scholarship programs like the NHSC offer relief for those dreaming of primary care careers.

Kelvin Vu, DO, always believed that everyone, no matter their background or social status, should have access to quality care. He knew he’d be able to offer this level of care by following his passion: practicing primary care in an underserved area. However, he wondered if the price tag of his medical education would make his dream difficult to attain.

That’s when he took to the Internet in search of scholarships to pursue his dream and found what he was looking for: the National Health Service Corps (NHSC). The program offers scholarships and loan repayment opportunities to medical students and physicians in exchange for practicing primary care in underserved areas upon completion of their residency training.

The application cycles for the scholarship and loan repayment programs are now open with respective deadlines of April 28 and April 5. The DO recently spoke with Dr. Vu, who says applying for an NHSC scholarship was one of the best decisions he’s ever made.

Why should someone consider applying for an NHSC program?

If you’re thinking about entering a primary care specialty, you should really explore the scholarship and loan repayment programs as possibilities. A lot of my colleagues graduated with $200,000 to $250,000 in debt. That amount of debt can force people to make choices about their careers for financial reasons, but the NHSC alleviates the financial worry and gives you the freedom to practice medicine the way you want.

When did you find out you received an NHSC scholarship?

I applied in the spring of my senior year of college and got word a few months into medical school. By that time, I had already made payments for tuition, rent and other expenses. When I received the scholarship, the NHSC reimbursed me for those expenses and took over from there. They dealt directly with my school for tuition and provided me with a monthly stipend for living expenses.

Did you have a choice in where you would practice?

Toward the end of your residency, you decide where to apply. You can view all the openings in the NHSC Jobs Center and start applying as long as you meet the requirements. It’s very similar to the job application process any resident goes through, except you’re applying for positions located in federally recognized health professional shortage areas. The Jobs Center includes urban areas like Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, as well as rural areas.

I fulfilled my obligation of four years—which I really felt like was more of an opportunity—at Open Door Community Health Centers in northern California’s Humboldt County. I still practice there today—I’m the medical director for Mobile Health Services.

What has been the most rewarding part of your NHSC experience?

I’m at a site that I love, and I think I would have worked at this exact location even if I didn’t get the scholarship. I’m able to provide care to people who need it the most. One day I’ll treat the indigent population through our mobile health van. The next day, I’m at the clinic across from Humboldt State University caring for a college professor or student.

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