If you’re a physician assistant, you know that getting to this place in your career was an expensive journey. Between the costs of your graduate degree and certifications, the physician assistant student loan repayment process is far from easy.
That’s why there are physician assistant loan repayment programs available to you. We’ve compiled a list of some of the loan repayment and loan forgiveness programs for physician assistants below, including federal and state options. We also list scholarships and grants to help you offset the costs while you’re in school, which we break down as well.
National loan repayment and forgiveness options for physician assistants
State-based physician assistant loan repayment programs
Scholarships and grants if you’re still in school
The cost of becoming a physician assistant
There are many federal and national programs that can help you get out of student loan debt faster. Here are some physician assistant loan forgiveness and repayment assistance options you might qualify for.
AmeriCorps is a government organization that offers a variety of ways for you to receive work in your field, give back and earn repayment assistance for your loans. Members work with over 2,000 community organizations, nonprofits and public agencies to help meet communities’ educational, safety and health needs.
If you join AmeriCorps, you would typically serve for 10-12 months. When you completed your service, you would receive a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award of up to $4,725 to pay back qualified loans, depending on whether you work part or full time. Work done during your time with AmeriCorps can also be considered qualifying employment for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (more on that below).
2. Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service
If you’re an allied clinical care provider in the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, you may be eligible for loan repayment. Commissioned Corps officers are highly skilled people who work to improve public health for communities in need.
While not part of the armed service, you’ll get many of the same benefits, including educational benefits. One such program is the Indian Health Service (IHS) Loan Repayment Program (more details are below). Another one is the National Health Service Corp (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program (also mentioned below).
For those who haven’t completed their education, you may have access to the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Assistance includes tuition assistance, a housing allowance and stipends for books and supplies.
3. IHS Loan Repayment Program
The Indian Health Service (IHS) Loan Repayment Program is another repayment option available to health professionals. Eligibility requirements include committing to an initial two-year service period working in a health facility that assists Alaska Native and American Indian communities.
You can receive up to $40,000 in eligible loan repayment for those two years — up to $20,000 per year — and you can extend your contract annually until your debt is paid off.
4. Health Professions Loan Repayment and other military repayment opportunities
Many of those serving in the military can take advantage of loan repayment through the Health Professions Loan Repayment program and other military loan repayment opportunities. Student loan repayment for physicians assistants is available to members of the Army, National Guard and Navy.
The Army awards active-duty physician assistants up to $120,000 — $40,000 per year for three years — on qualifying loans through the Active Duty Health Professions Loan Repayment Program.
In the National Guard, physicians assistants are eligible for up to $50,000 in loan repayments. The National Guard also offers bonuses of anywhere up to $20,000, depending on how long of a contract you sign.
Members of the Navy must fulfill certain requirements to qualify for loan repayment, such as qualifying or holding an appointment as a commissioned officer in the health professional and agreeing to serve on active duty; being enrolled in their last year in an approved program; and meeting identified skill shortages. There’s a maximum annual repayment of $40,000, and this money is taxable.
5. National Health Service Corps (NHSC)
The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) awards up to $50,000 — tax-free — in student loan repayment in exchange for a two-year commitment at an approved site in a designated Health Professional Shortage Area (HSPA), which are areas that lack primary care, dental health or mental health providers.
The amount awarded will depend on the NHCC-approved site, and priority will be given to those whose likelihood is to keep practicing at a HSPA. After you’ve completed two years of service, you may be able to apply for additional funding through a one-year service continuation to repay any remaining loans.
6. Income-driven repayment plans
If you’re struggling to afford your federal loan payments, you can take advantage of income-driven repayment plans to catch a break in your monthly budget.
There are several different income-driven repayment plans to choose from:
- Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE)
- Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE)
- Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR)
- Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR)
These repayment plans won’t help you get out of student loan debt faster. What they could do is enable you to have your monthly payments lowered to a percentage of your income.
You’ll have to reapply for your chosen income-driven repayment plan each year, as it doesn’t automatically renew. After making consecutive payments over 20-25 years, you can also apply to have the remainder of your taxable debt forgiven (if you have any left). Keep in mind that the discharged amount will be taxed as income, though the laws on taxing forgiven student loans could change in the future so that’s something to keep an eye on.
7. Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)
This national program is available to physician assistants, among other professions. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program offers student loan forgiveness for those who work full-time in governmental organizations, 501(c)(3) not-for-profits, and other types of public service organizations.
To qualify, you must first consolidate your federal loans into a direct consolidation loan if they are not already part of the direct loan program. Then, you have to make 120 qualifying payments, after which you can apply for forgiveness. You’re eligible to apply once you’ve done so after October 2017.
Note that many of these programs are subject to change at any time. Back in 2017, for example, PSLF came under fire as workers found that their approvals can be reversed, even years after making qualifying payments. On Sept. 27, 2018, the Government Accountability Office issued a report stating that only 0.28% of those who submitted an application were granted loan forgiveness. The verdict is still out on what will come of these developments but the program remains intact for now.
8. Refinancing and consolidation
Refinancing your student loans is the act of paying off your loans (federal, private or a combination of both) with a new, private loan, ideally at a lower interest rate.
There are two major benefits of refinancing:
- A lower interest rate can help you pay off the debt faster and save money on interest if you choose a shorter repayment term.
- Selecting a longer repayment term can help you decrease your monthly payment and open up monthly cash flow. (Note that this option probably won’t save you any money in the long run though.)
It’s important to note the potential downside to refinancing. If you refinance federal loans with a private lender, they become private loans and you lose out on access to federal protections like deferment and forbearance, and forgiveness options. You also lose access to income-driven repayment plans.
Consolidation, on the other hand, is something available to federal loans that enables you to combine all of your loans into one loan with one monthly payment and a weighted interest rate.
It’s available through something called a direct consolidation loan.
The main benefit of this loan is the ability to simplify your monthly student loan repayment to one servicer and one payment. This type of loan also enables you to use other federal repayment plans and forgiveness programs, such as PSLF and income-driven repayment plans. However, it does not result in a lower interest rate or savings on your debt.
There are plenty of state-based PA student repayment and forgiveness programs that are available to you. Here are some examples of the programs that you may consider, as well as resources to explore further options.
State Loan Repayment Program (SLRP)
The (SLRP) is a great place to start as it works with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) in over 30 states. Eligibility requirements differ depending on the state, but typically include:
- Work in Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs)
- Minimum two-year commitment (some may require longer)
Although it differs from state to state, the SLRP awards up to $50,000 per year. However, there can be exceptions, so be sure to check with your local state contact. You may also be able to get additional funds if you stay on longer.
Virginia State Loan Repayment Program
You can receive up to $140,000 for up to a four-year commitment in a federally designated Health Professional Shortage Area in Virginia. You will need to commit to a minimum of at least two years. Funds that you receive are non-taxable.
Rural Area Programs
Some state-based programs are even more location-specific, with programs that offer support for those working in rural areas, such as the Georgia Physician Assistant Loan Repayment Program (PALRP). With this program, you can be eligible for up to $40,000 in repayment assistance. You have to work for a Medicaid provider in Georgia that actively treats Medicaid patients in a rural community with a population below 50,000 residents. The time commitment is a minimum of 12 months and a maximum of four years.
The Rural Health Information Hub has a comprehensive list of rural repayment programs.
A new PA loan repayment program you might want to be aware of is CalHealthCares. The program will pay up to $300,000 if you commit to a five-year service obligation during which you maintain a minimum a patient caseload of at least 30% of Medi-Cal beneficiaries. You also need to practice in California, have an unrestricted license and be in good standing with one of California’s licensing boards. There are additional requirements — you must not be currently participating in other loan repayment programs. Check out the CalHealthCares website for more information.
If you don’t see a state loan repayment program that applies to you, consider contacting your alma mater. They might have more resources to help you find repayment assistance or loan forgiveness for physician assistants.
If you’re not yet a practicing physician assistant, but are interested in keeping your educational costs down, there are typically scholarships and grants that apply to your field of study.
Look for scholarships specific to your state, your city or county and your school. You may be surprised by just how many scholarships there are for physician assistants.
To give you a head start, here’s a list of scholarships and grants that are currently available:
- Association of Physician Assistants in Oncology Scholarship
- NHSC Scholarship Program
- Board of Medical Scholarship Awards
- PA Foundation Student Scholarships
- Tuition assistance from various branches of the military
By now, you’ve probably realized that the costs of becoming a physician assistant may be a bit of a double-edged sword. You’re paying high out-of-pocket costs now but the pay could be worth it later.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median yearly pay for a physician assistant in 2018 was $108,610. Even better, the BLS expects the job outlook from 2018-2028 to grow “much faster than average” in the field, at 31%.
But how much does it cost to be able to earn that kind of salary? Total costs vary depending on your school. However, with the master’s degree requirement, it’s not easy to come out unscathed by student loan debt.
In 2018, The Physician Assistant Education Association released a 2017 matriculating student survey. One of the questions in the survey was, “What do you anticipate your total debt (excluding personal debt) will be from attending PA school?” Of those surveyed, about 12% expect a debt of $50,000 to $74,999; 19% said $75,000 to $99,999; and around 22% said $100,000 to $124,999. Even with a median $108,610 salary, that’s quite a burden to bear.
If you’re just starting out in your career and battling giant loan payments, it’s worth your time to investigate all of these physician assistant student loan repayment programs. It’s not easy caring for people all day only to go home and worry about your loans. But if you qualify for loan forgiveness for physician assistants, you can put in a hard day’s work doing what you love and not feel burdened by the amount you owe.
Sarah Li Cain contributed to this report.