According to the American Dental Education Association, the average 2019 dental school graduate reported an average debt of $292,169. With the costs of education constantly rising, it’s important to consider all the options available to help students pay for school.
The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) offers scholarships to students pursuing a degree to become a dentist, physician, physician assistant, nurse practitioner or certified nurse-midwife. The scholarship includes a full-tuition scholarship, a stipend for living expenses, and an annual payment to cover other reasonable costs such as books, uniforms, laboratory fees, etc.
In exchange for NHSC scholarship support during school, students commit to working as a primary care provider in an underserved area after graduation. Students interested in specializing will still have the option to do so before beginning practice. Dental school graduates have the option to complete an NHSC-approved residency in general practice, advanced education in general dentistry, pediatrics, geriatrics or public health prior to beginning NHSC service.
The number of years of NHSC service a scholar is obligated to complete following graduation depends on the number of years a scholar received financial support. For example, an incoming dental student receiving a four-year scholarship will complete to four years of service, whereas a student receiving two years of funding will complete two years of service. Pursuing a residency does not extend a scholar’s service obligation.
Once dental school (and residency in some cases) is completed, students will have many choices for where they will begin professional practice. Scholars choose from available sites that meet a minimum Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) score. HPSA scores for dental health care are assigned 0-26, with higher scores reflecting a higher need for a dental health care provider.
Sites are located in all 50 states and can be found in rural or urban areas. Sites are affiliated with Federally Qualified Health Centers, rural health clinics, outpatient clinics, Indian Health Service clinics and many other health care facilities. In addition to the scholarship benefits received during school, scholars can expect to receive a competitive salary and benefits upon beginning employment.
To apply, you have to complete the application and three essay prompts, include two letters of recommendation and a CV/resume. The application and essays provide many opportunities to discuss your commitment to providing health care to underserved populations, your previous experiences working with the underserved and your motivation to pursue a career in dentistry.
As an NHSC Scholarship recipient, I recommend this program to anyone looking to pursue a career in primary care, provide care to underserved populations, and reduce or eliminate their debt burden after school.
~ Jody Pfeuffer, Missouri ‘23