What it is: This state-funded program encourages primary care clinicians to work in New Jersey by repaying up to $120,000 of their student loans if they agree to work at least four years in areas that suffer from a shortage of primary care. The program is for primary care clinicians, including doctors, nurses, dentists, and physician's assistants. Medically underserved areas are in inner city and rural communities, such as Newark, Trenton, and Gloucester.
Who is enrolled in the program: Right now, the program has a total of 56 primary care providers: 17 doctors, 23 dentists, nine nurse practitioners, and seven physician's assistants. The state budgets $1.5 million annually for the program, and 14 awards have been granted in the current fiscal year that ends June 30.
Where they work: Clinicians are working in federally qualified health centers, which receive state and federal funds and serve low-income patients, as well as migrant worker health centers, correctional facilities, and private practice offices. All the clinicians are assigned to medical facilities that care for underserved populations throughout the state.
Impact of the program: Since the program was founded in1992, it has enrolled more than 200 clinicians. A 2007 progress report found that 85 percent of participants continued to work in medically underserved areas of New Jersey after completing their requirement.
Dr. Sariya Pacheco-Smith is a pediatrician who works at the Henry J. Austin Health Center, a Trenton community health center. She is enrolled in the loan redemption program, and said the $120,000 in student loan debt repayment is a tremendous benefit. She plans to stay in Trenton. “It has always been my passion to provide comprehensive primary care to a population that doesn’t have access to it. With children, sometimes their health is affected by their social surroundings, and they should not be penalized.”
Why it matters: New Jersey is coping with a shortage of primary care that is expected to get worse in the years ahead. Healthcare reform is expected to increase the number of people with health insurance, who will then seek increased access to primary care. Further, the state’s aging population will require more medical care.