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Indian Health Service: The Federal Health Program for American Indians and Alaska Natives
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Dentist and Dental Hygienist Careers

IHS Division of Oral Health Newletter Volume 2 Issue 1

Student Loan Debt?
With IHS, You're Not Re-Paying Alone!

Are you facing a mountain of student loan debt when you get out of school? A recent survey reported that students graduating from Dental School have, on average, $122,500 in student loans. Paying back the loans while beginning a professional career is often difficult. But IHS offers an opportunity to begin practicing and make a significant dent in the debt at the same time.

The national Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program (IHSLRP) repays all, or a portion of, a new hire's eligible health professional educational loans — up to $24,000 per year, which includes an allocation for taxes. In addition, many new dentists apply to work at specific sites which offer the Supplemental Loan Repayment Program (SLRP). The SLRP guarantees a loan repayment award worth up to $48,000 (including allocation for taxes) in exchange for a two-year agreement to practice at the participating site.

Dr. Timothy Lozon, Deputy Director of Human Resources for the IHS Division of Oral Health explains the details of the IHSLRP and the SLRP.

Q: How do I apply for the IHSLRP?

Lozon: You should apply for the IHSLRP at the same time you apply for a position with IHS. No matter which career path you choose — Commissioned Officer of the USPHS, Civil Service hire, or working directly for a Tribe — are all eligible to apply for an IHSLRP award. I strongly encourage students who are in their 4th year of dental school to start the employment application process in the fall, by first visiting the Job Opportunities link at the IHS Dental website at www.dentist.ihs.gov. You can download employment application instructions from the How to Apply section and, at the same time, complete the application for an IHSLRP award. Click on the Loan Repayment link to download and complete the IHSLRP application.

Q: Do I have to be a student to be eligible?

Lozon: No you don't. If you have outstanding student loans, then you are eligible to apply to the IHSLRP.

Q: If I apply for a position with the IHS, does that automatically apply for IHSLRP also?

Lozon: No. Applying for a job and applying for an IHSLRP award are two separate applications, but you should file both at the same time. I realize that in the spring term, students are concerned about finishing their requirements for dental school, getting their diplomas and taking the board exam for licensure. It's best to have all that paperwork completed, and then all that's required to make the loan repayment application final are two things: a written job offer and your acceptance of the job offer.

Q: Some of the vacancies have a green dollar sign $, what does that indicate?

Lozon: Vacancies with the green dollar sign $ indicate sites that participate in the Supplemental Loan Repayment Program (SLRP) which guarantees two years of loan repayment. The site contributes the money for the loan repayment and that money is held for loan repayment only. If you apply and accept a position that has a green dollar sign $, you are guaranteed to receive loan repayment for a two year period because those funds are already earmarked for that assignment.

Q: Do I need to complete a separate application for the SLRP?

Lozon: No, it's the same application and process as the IHSLRP. All sites are eligible for the national IHSLRP, but the funding in the national IHSLRP can be limited in the later rounds. If you apply in the later rounds, it is possible that the site where you want to work may not qualify you for a loan repayment award because the national program has run out of funds. By applying to one of the sites with a green dollar sign $, and committing to that site early on, you're set. You have yourself a job and you know you're going to get loan repayment.

Q: Can I re-apply for the SLRP after the initial two-year commitment is complete?

Lozon: Well, after you complete your first two year commitment, if you agree to stay at that SLRP site for another year, and that site agrees that they will continue to fund the award, then the award can continue annually at that site as long as both parties continue to agree. If that doesn't happen, or you want to move to another location, you would need to re-apply for a national IHSLRP, or for an SLRP at another location that offers it, and commit for another two years.

Q: What advice do you have for someone considering the IHSLRP?

Lozon: Time is of the essence! Funding in the IHSLRP is limited to $3.5 M and the priority goes to the people who are currently in the IHSLRP and are up for a contract extension. This is one of the reasons the SLRP is so attractive — you are guaranteed that the money is there. Having the "money in the bank", so to speak, takes some of the pressure off of those just starting their careers. So, my advice is surf for sites with the green dollar signs $ and you are guaranteed loan repayment when you are hired by that site.

Kristi and Daniel Newton, a husband and wife team working in Ft. DeFiance, AZ, are loan repayment recipients. Here's what they have to say about the program.

Dr. Kristi Newton: I am listed in the “Contact an Alumni” as an alumnus of the University of Tennessee. I received an e-mail from someone the other day that said, "I'm $150,000 in debt! I don't believe I can afford to work for the public health system!" I replied — Because of the loan repayment options, I think it's the other way around-you can't afford NOT to do it! I'll have about $40,000 of my loan paid off in two years and that's something that almost nobody in private practice will be able to do.

Dr. Daniel Newton: It's quite a burden to start your career and a marriage with as much school debt as we had. But we've set goals: we make regular monthly payments and once a year, when we receive our loan repayment check, we send that in as a big lump-sum payment. It certainly eases the burden and we're definitely getting ahead financially thanks to this program.

A career with IHS can help you get out of student loan debt!

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