Winning a National Health Service Corps Scholarship with Johanna

The National Health Service Corps scholarship is a great scholarship program for healthcare professionals who are committed to primary care for the underserved and are accepted or enrolled in a fully accredited training program.  The scholarship pays tuition, fees, other educational costs, and a living stipend in return for a commitment to work at least two years at an approved outpatient facility in a medically underserved community.  In order to gain an insight on the application process I present to you an interview with Johanna! 

Johanna is a nurse practitioner at a primary care clinic for the homeless in New York City. She has also worked as a long term substitute teacher and a nurse in a drop-in LGBT clinic. She graduated with an African Studies major in 2010 before doing a second degree bridge program through Columbia to become a nurse practitioner. She is a recipient of the National Health Service Corps scholarship which she used for her graduate nursing program at Columbia University.

Which scholarship should NP’s apply for: the Nurse Corps or the National Health Service Corps?

Apply to both. The National Health Service Corps has a higher stipend, the Nurse Corps has a lower stipend and they have to do something different with taxes, but you qualify for both so you should do both applications. The National Health Service Corps is not just nurses, you’re also competing against MD’s, DO’s, PA’s, and dentists. You just have to make sure that your program qualifies. For example, the scholarships doesn’t apply to all bridge programs or second degree programs, it depends on the way the second degree program is set up. I know my friend at NYU, her program qualified, but at Columbia it didn’t. I called the number on the website and they were the most helpful people ever, which you don’t expect from a federal funded helpline. Call them with any questions you have and they can help you work out the subtleties of the application process. 

How long did the entire application process take you?

I probably took longer than most other people because I was working nights and going to school during the day. I was planning well in advance. I started planning in winter and the application was open in the spring. I started talking to my program at Columbia to make sure that I was qualified. I had to get financial aid involved, and I did a lot of coordination with them because they had some forms they needed to fill out. I used the previous year’s application to see what needed to be done. I also talked to my friend who had received the scholarship and that helped a lot. The actual application took me a couple of weeks, to get all my letters of recommendation and to write the personal essays.

What made you decide between the repayment program versus the scholarship program?

I applied to the scholarship at the end of my second degree program, hoping that it would apply to my master’s degree. Columbia is really expensive, and I already knew I wanted to work with vulnerable populations, so the scholarship worked for me. I will probably eventually do the loan repayment program after my scholarship is done because I still have loans from other parts of my education. When I was accepted, I learned that loan repayers cannot apply for the scholarship, but scholarship recipients can apply to loan repayment afterward.  Consider this if you are applying for a BSN program and are interested in eventually getting your MSN. Also – know your service debt. My master’s program was 1.5 years long, and my scholarship agreement is two years long. That means that I am working under the service agreement for six months longer than the total amount of school time that the scholarship paid for. The minimum amount of time for the service agreement is two years, so if you have six months left of school, you might want to hold out for the loan repayment later, because otherwise you will be tied to the scholarship for time that you could have spent in loan repayment. If you’re not sure, don’t sign up for the scholarship. If you get a job that doesn’t qualify and don’t fulfill your service requirement you have to pay back three times the cost of your scholarship!!

What made you stand out among all the other applicants? It’s really tough competition!

I really don’t know, you’ll have to ask the federal government because they’re pretty tight-lipped about that. However I didn’t have massive debt like some other applicants I knew, I had international travel experience, and I had experience working with underserved populations, just not as a clinician. Also you can get good letters of recommendation as long as you ask the right person. Honestly they are just looking for people who show a passion to work in underserved communities.  When I applied, I was really uncertain that I would get a scholarship, but there’s no harm in applying. I sent off my application and kind of forgot about it until I received notice that I was one of the lucky few. I was ecstatic! The recipients of the NHSC scholarship are diverse, so I don’t know that there is any one thing that gives anyone a leg up over anyone else. 

Are there any negatives with the scholarship program?

I’m limited to where I can get a job, even within my own agency. I’m mandated to work in a 16 or above HPSA score site, so there’s a job that I really want within the agency I’m at right now but the HPSA score is too low so I can’t. It sucks, but some annoyance is definitely worth having my MSN paid for.

Finding a job was not as easy as what it would appear based on the job listings on the website because a lot of places don’t update their postings. I needed to use my network and persistence. Reach out to the contacts listed on the site and check the web pages for job listings.  I knew I didn’t want to apply really far and move cross country, though I know some other people who did. They give you six months to find a job, and assist with travel expenses for interviews, but it can be a challenge if you’re looking in specific areas.

Also you need to make sure the agency you’re working at knows what to do and has worked with past scholarship recipients because when you’re a new grad and working with a new population- adding administrative stuff on top of everything else can be overwhelming. The agency needs to know how to document your hours so that it meets the requirements of the federal government.

Any tips or resources you found invaluable during the application process?

Coffee, haha! And I had a friend who got the scholarship so she proofread my personal essays, it helped get another perspective to make sure they were focused on my desire to work with underserved populations. Also I read the instructions and documents online on their website- it sounds silly, but it’s important to pore through those papers. 

Anything else you want to share?

If people are really passionate that the program stays funded then they should join the Association of Clinicians for the Underserved (http://clinicians.org). They assist in the campaign to keep the NHSC fully funded so that many more clinicians can benefit from the program in the future. They also have a career center which is available without being a member!

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There are many other nurse practitioner scholarships available, but this one is definitely one of the largest. If you have any questions please comment below, and we will try to respond quickly.  Share with your friends on Facebook and don’t forget to sign up for an email subscription so you don’t miss our future content. If you have any suggestions or requests, please let me know!

2 responses

  1. Hello, I was wondering if you knew anything about the taxable award with Nurse CORPS Scholarship Program. I am also applying hoping that it could fund my Columbia direct entry MSN program which is 15 months long, but I am worried about how much they are going to take for tax. I heard if you are unable to pay the tax portion, it would be a breach of contract. Since Columbia can be a whopping $120k, according to the income tax calculators I’ve been playing with online, I would be taxed about $40k, which is not an amount I can pay. Can you please give me some insight if possible? Thank you.

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