Program pays $120,000 in student loans, fills doctor need

259 Shortage Areas in Virginia

BEDFORD COUNTY – Paying back student loans can take decades, especially after years of schooling to be a doctor.

There's a program filling a need for doctors in areas that don't have enough and pays back their student loans at the same time.

Dr. Brian Freeman graduated with $160,000 in student loans.

"I never would have thought I would be in this place, in Bedford County, in the Bedford community health center," said Dr. Freeman, a family physician.

He's in Bedford as part of the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Students to Service Loan Repayment Program. They paid $113,000 of his loans, in exchange for three years of working as a primary healthcare doctor in an area that needs doctors.

Currently there are 259 Shortage Areas in Virginia and 98 doctors working in the program.

"There is absolutely a need for positions in our area. Just being in a rural area, in general, there's definitely more of a need to be accessible," said Sherry Pollard, a patient engagement specialist who lives in Bedford. "When you are in a rural area you are kind of confined. There are definitely barriers that you have to cross such as transportation. It might be a money issue where they can't afford the gas or the transportation to get to and from the doctor's office."

Dr. Freeman says many times medical school students pick higher paying jobs, like becoming a surgeon or anesthesiologist, instead of going into family medicine.

"I find myself quite pleasantly surprised with the support and the relationships that I've made here in this area in Bedford County," said Dr. Freeman who picked the area because his wife's family is from Campbell County. "I think people here value what you do for them, they are very appreciative of you. A lot of times we can develop a relationship and they come see me and trust my opinion more than they trust the cardiologist for the other sub-specialist opinion, so I think that's been quite rewarding for me."

Medical and dental students can qualify for up to $120,000 of loan payments. The deadline to apply was Thursday, October 19 but that has now been extended to October 26.

You can look for open positions in Virginia's Health Professional Shortage Areas by visiting the Health Resources and Services Administration's Health Workforce Connector at: www.connector.hrsa.gov

To learn more about the Students to Service Loan Repayment Program and NHSC, visit www.nhsc.hrsa.gov