Opportunities with the NHSC

June 1, 2011
This month's column explains the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), which is the agency I spotlighted in this column in the April 2011 issue ...

by Christine Nathe, RDH, MS
[email protected]

This month's column explains the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), which is the agency I spotlighted in this column in the April 2011 issue when we looked into the careers of Bryan Wagner and Danielle Dettra, a husband and wife dental team. The NHSC was created in the early 1970s by federal law to enable health centers in rural and urban communities to compete with private medical practices and prevent a growing primary health care shortage. The impetus for this law was a health care crisis that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s when rural physicians retired or moved, which left many populations without essential health care services. Specifically, the NHSC was established to improve the delivery of health services to people in communities where health personnel and services were inadequate.

Population group or medical needs are what designate communities as Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs). These communities can be urban or rural, because population groups or medical facilities are classified by lack of providers.

Criteria can also include a population with an unusually high need for dental services. The NHSC actually consists of a variety of health and social service providers, including dental hygienists. There are currently more than 1,000 dentists and dental hygienists participating in the NHSC.

Since 1972, the NHSC has provided over 37,000 primary health-care practitioners to communities with limited access to primary care. Currently the NHSC has more than 7,500 clinicians who work in more than 10,000 sites in the U.S.1 Fortunately, more than 7 million people receive care from NHSC providers. This program helps communities find providers to care for their population's needs.

NHSC director Rebecca Spitzgo stated, "By the end of fiscal year 2011, we expect that over 10,800 clinicians will be caring for more than 11 million people, more than tripling the National Health Service Corps since 2008."

The NHSC Loan Repayment Program offers dental hygienists up to $60,000 to repay student loans in exchange for two years' serving in a community-based site in a high-need HPSA. After completing their two years of service, loan repayors may apply for additional years of support. The loan repayment program recruits clinicians just completing training as well as seasoned professionals to meet the immediate need for care throughout the nation.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius, when announcing the launch of the new application cycle for the NHSC, said, "NHSC serves as a model for addressing both challenges simultaneously, increasing access to primary care physicians who can support the physical and mental well-being of individuals to help prevent disease and illness, and ensure everyone, regardless of where they live, has access to comprehensive, high quality care."

The NHSC can be a great opportunity for dental hygienists looking for employment. Also, the NHSC may be able to help your community provide health care to those in need. For more information, visit NHSC.hrsa.gov.

Clinic sites where NHSC providers may work

  • Certified rural health clinic
  • Federally qualified health center look-alike
  • Hospital-affiliated primary care practice
  • Indian health service site
  • Managed care network
  • Public health department
  • Solo or group partnership or practice
  • State or federal prison
  • U.S. immigration, customs, and enforcement site

And the sites must:

  • Be located in an HPSA
  • Provide services on a discount fee schedule
  • Accept patients covered by Medicaid, Medicare, and CHIPS
  • Document sound fiscal management
  • Maintain a competitive salary package for clinicians
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