Paying for Medical School Through Service

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Students who want to borrow less or have some (or all) of their loans forgiven, may want to consider providing medical service for a particular organization.

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Military member at a college recruitment event

Aspiring medical students often ask, "How will I pay for medical school?" Over 70% of graduating students reported having outstanding educational loans, according to the most recent AAMC Medical School Graduation Questionnaire.

To reduce this loan debt, some students may want to consider providing medical service through an organization, employer, or program after medical school (or licensure). In return for their service, the graduate receives the benefit of loan forgiveness or loan repayment. These service commitments can significantly offset the cost of a medical education.

Nearly 40% of graduating medical students in 2015 planned to participate in a program that would enable them to have a portion or all of their medical education debt forgiven in exchange for their service. These programs included Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), National Health Service Corps, Indian Health Service Corps, Armed Services (Navy, Army, Air Force), Uniformed Service (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services), state and private loan forgiveness programs, and hospital programs (e.g., sign-on bonus).

Some of the programs above require a service commitment for particular communities and some require service by a specific specialty for an underserved area. Be sure to check the requirements for each program of interest to make sure it's a good fit for you and make sure you are willing and able to commit to the service, as some programs have penalties for not meeting all the requirements. It's never too early to begin researching these programs and options.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is a federal program that offers loan forgiveness for borrowers who meet all of the following requirements:

  • Have qualifying Direct Loans.

  • Make 120 qualifying loan payments.

  • Repay their loans through an income-driven repayment plan.

  • Work full-time for a qualifying nonprofit employer.

Qualifying employment includes federal, state, or local governments, nonprofit organizations, the military, and not-for-profit organizations that devote a majority of their full-time equivalent employees to providing certain qualifying public services. Full-time AmeriCorps or Peace Corps volunteer service also counts as qualifying employment for the PSLF program.

For more information about PSLF, visit

Indian Health Services

The Indian Health Services Loan Repayment Program awards up to $50,000 to program recipients in exchange for a two-year service commitment to practice in health facilities serving American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

National Health Service Corps

The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) offers scholarship and loan repayment programs for medical professionals in primary care specialties. Both programs require service after graduation from medical school (or licensure) in areas that have a shortage of health professionals.

The scholarship program provides funding for tuition and fees during medical school. There are several loan repayment programs through the NHSC providing repayment assistance ranging from $50,000 to $120,000 depending upon the specific program.

Military Service

Some students may choose to obtain their medical degree by participating in a military scholarship or military loan repayment program. For students interested in providing medical service for members of the military and their families, this can be a great way to finance the cost of a medical education. The qualifications and commitment for each military program can vary, so be sure to research the various programs. This FIRST fact sheet outlines various opportunities.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Some students may be interested in serving the military population by working for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA has the Health Professional Scholarship Program that provides financial assistance to students attending programs resulting in careers in a health care services discipline. In return for a service commitment of 18 months (for every year sponsored) at a VA facility after graduation, licensure, and residency, the scholarship recipient will have their tuition and fees paid by the VA. The recipient will also receive a monthly stipend while attending school.

In addition to the scholarship program, the VA also has the Specialty Education Loan Repayment Program that provides loan repayment assistance of up to $40,000 a year (up to a maximum of $160,000) for qualified health professions education loans. Qualified recipients agree to serve at a VA facility for 12 months for each $40,000 received, and the recipient must provide at least 24 months of service. 

State and Federal Loan Forgiveness Programs

There are also loan forgiveness opportunities through some state and federal loan programs. To learn more about these opportunities review the AAMC Loan Repayment/Forgiveness/Scholarship and Other Programs database.

Check with the financial aid staff at the medical school you’re planning to attend to see if any additional programs may be available. The more you know, the better your financial decisions will be. Visit FIRST for more information on financing, money management, loan repayment strategies, and tips at every stage of your medical education.

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