Pharmacists included in loan repayment program

National Health Service Corps grant program supports health care providers in underserved communities.

Pharmacists are now included in the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) State Loan Repayment Program (SLRP), which gives grants to states to operate their own loan repayment programs for primary care providers in medically underserved areas.

For the first time, participating states have the option to expand their programs to include pharmacists and registered nurses. These professions join physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, dental professionals, and mental health professionals on the list of eligible professionals.

“Pharmacists are often an important source of information and counsel in their communities and are increasingly a key member of the primary care team,” Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) spokesperson Michelle Daniels told “The National Health Service Corps aims to support health care providers who will increase access to care in underserved communities. Providing states additional flexibility to meet the unique needs of their underserved communities benefits the patients the State Loan Repayment Program is designed to serve.”

The SLRP funding opportunity is competitive and requires states to apply online by June 5. The majority of states participate in SLRP, according to a map on the NHSC website. State participation in SLRP requires matching funds by the state and administration of the program by a state agency. States that apply and are selected can then set up their program to fund pharmacists, Daniels said. "So individuals should be aware that there probably are not any immediate opportunities. They would need to contact the individual SLRP states to see if they will have LRP for pharmacists in the future."

A federal government program, NHSC is administered by HRSA, part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

NHSC’s decision to include pharmacists works around the slow journey in Congress of the Pharmacist Student Loan Repayment Eligibility Act (S. 48). The bill was introduced by Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI) on January 25, 2011, to amend the Public Health Service Act to make pharmacists eligible for loan repayment through NHSC.

Last year, the APhA Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA–ASP) adopted resolution 2011.1, Pharmacist Inclusion in State and Federal Loan Repayment Programs. Following is the resolution: APhA–ASP encourages all federal and state government loan repayment and loan forgiveness programs to provide pharmacists with equal access and opportunities as other health care professionals.

APhA’s Government Affairs staff has been working to make this program a reality. At the 2011 APhA Summer Leadership Institute, student pharmacists and APhA staff lobbied Members of Congress and their staff on loan forgiveness, seeking cosponsorship of S. 48 and sponsorship of a companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“As medication experts, pharmacists are valuable resources to patients in medically underserved areas, and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in SLRPs,” said David R. Steeb, APhA–ASP National President. “This is a great example of how students can make a difference in the profession through advocacy efforts. It also provides new practitioners with additional career paths that improve patient care in Health Professional Shortage Areas.”