Allying for Health Equity Blog

Are you looking for new ways to recruit and retain clinicians at your organization? Do you have staff who can support new clinicians in the field coming out of training? Over 20,000 clinicians are currently participating in the federally funded National Health Service Corps (NHSC) across the country serving 23.6 million people. Applying to become an NHSC-approved site is the first step in working towards recruiting new clinicians in the NHSC and supporting current clinicians at your organization to stay in their roles.

What Are the Benefits?

NHSC-approved sites have access to a large pool of clinicians who want to work in under-resourced communities in exchange for financial assistance. NHSC participants commit to serving in their placements for 2-4 years, depending on the NHSC program in which they are participating. Some clinicians are leaving school and just entering the workforce; some clinicians are established and more experienced in the field.

NHSC-approved sites receive support from the Bureau of Healthcare Workforce (BHW) through the Division of Regional Offices and State Primary Care Offices (PCOs).National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Logo State PCOs are extremely helpful when first applying to become an approved site and provide assistance when issues arise after approval. BHW also houses the Customer Service Portal where organizations can apply to become NHSC-approved sites, post job openings, and search for new clinicians. Once approved, sites are also able to network with other approved sites and exchange peer support.

How Do I Apply?

The NHSC accepts new site applications during the specified application cycle each year through the BHW Customer Service Portal. Some organization types, such as FQHCs and FQHC Look-A-Likes, are called Auto-Approved Sites and can apply any time of year. These organizations still must submit applications and receive approval, but they do not have to submit a Recertification Application every 3 years once approved. Note: If your organization has multiple service sites, each site must submit a separate application to become an NHSC-approved site.

Who is Eligible?

Your organization will have to meet certain eligibility requirements to apply. Here is a snapshot of the main requirements:

  • Designated as a Federal Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA)
  • Offer comprehensive primary care services
  • Have a “No discrimination” policy
  • No one denied due to inability to pay
  • Sliding Fee Schedule (200% FPL) in place
  • Established recruitment and retention plan
  • Access to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) to credential clinicians

The Site Reference Guide details eligibility requirements, the application process, recruiting clinicians, and site responsibilities. Familiarizing yourself with this information and collecting documentation will help you prepare for the application, especially the HPSA designation. A HPSA is defined as a geographic area, population group, or healthcare facility designated by HRSA as having a shortage of primary care, dental, or mental health professionals. HPSA scores are calculated for each community per clinical discipline based on the following factors:

  1. Population-to-provider ratio
  2. Percent of local population below 100% of the Federal Poverty Level
  3. The amount of time it takes to travel to the nearest source of care (NSC) beyond the HPSA designation area

While some organizations, like FQHCs and FQHC Look-A-Likes, are designated as Auto-HPSAs, you will still have to ensure that you have the appropriate HPSA scores to recruit certain clinical disciplines in the Scholarship Program. The scores for Class Year 2023 are available online.

Retaining and Recruiting NHSC Clinicians

Once your organization becomes an NHSC-approved site, you can post open positions for NHSC participants to view in the Health Workforce Connector. You can also participate in Virtual Job Fairs hosted by the NHSC. During Virtual Job Fairs, clinicians will be able to virtually visit your organization’s booth, chat one-on-one with you, and arrange time to discuss open positions, the local community, salaries, and benefits.

A small portion of NHSC participants started the NHSC Scholarship Program and the Students to Service LRP while they were still in school. They are recent graduates from their clinical trainings and may need a higher level of support than other clinicians as they will be new members of the workforce. The five clinical disciplines eligible for these two programs are: Physicians, Nurse Practitioners, Physician Assistants, Dentists, and Nurse Midwives. NHSC-approved sites can only hire one NHSC Scholar and one S2S LRP per year unless a request for additional Scholars is submitted and approved. Specific HPSA scores are required to hire NHSC Scholars and S2S LRP participants. These scores are updated each spring and can vary by clinical discipline.

The majority of NHSC participants are established clinicians who want to continue working in underserved clinical settings and can receive financial assistance through three additional NHSC programs – the Loan Repayment Program (LRP), the Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Workforce LRP, and the Rural Community LRP. You may already have clinicians at your organization who are eligible for these NHSC LRPs. You can help them understand their eligibility and the NHSC application processes by hosting informational meetings, forwarding emails from the NHSC regarding application deadlines and technical assistance webinars, and posting helpful resources in areas where clinicians congregate at your site. If you are already an NHSC-approved site, now is a good time to promote participation in the NHSC to your clinicians as the application deadline for these three programs is April 25th, 2023.

The NHSC provides materials that can help clinicians compare the different financial assistance programs to figure out which one is best for them. Time commitments and salaries vary by program. In addition to the five clinical disciplines eligible for the Scholarship Program and S2S LRP, the following disciplines can also participate in these other Loan Repayment Programs:

  • Health Service Psychologists
  • Licensed Clinical Social Workers
  • Psychiatric Nurse Specialists
  • Marriage & Family Therapists
  • Licensed Professional Counselors
  • Other specialty disciplines that are program-specific, e.g. Substance Use Disorder Counselors

Supporting NHSC Participants

Part of the responsibility of being an NHSC-approved site is providing the appropriate orientation, training, supervision, and mentorship to NHSC participants. This will ensure success in their roles and within the organization. Sites are also required to support participation in professional development opportunities, particularly NHSC-related Continuing Education. In partnership with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and Abt Associates, ACU has developed a curriculum exclusively for NHSC Scholars and S2S LRP participants and their affiliated approved-site staff as part of the NHSC: Empowering Clinicians for Resiliency & Transformative Care Initiative. This curriculum is designed to help NHSC participants:

  1. Identify the drivers and implications of clinician burnout, implement strategies to manage symptoms and increase personal resilience, and develop approaches to advocating for organizational changes to reduce burnout
  2. Use data to identify health inequities in their clinics and communities, and advocate for practice and system-level policy changes to address those inequities
  3. Address social determinants of health, like food insecurity and housing instability, in clinical practice, including the use of community partnerships

Publications and virtual trainings from the NHSC: Empowering Clinicians for Resiliency & Transformative Care Initiative include evidence-based practices, screening and assessment tools, case studies, coaching sessions, peer mentorship, and Grand Rounds presented by experts and experienced clinicians in the field. These educational resources are promoted exclusively to NHSC Scholars, S2S LRP participants, and the NHSC-approved sites where these participants practice.

If your organization has NHSC Scholars and S2S LRP participants on staff, we encourage you to remind them about this professional development opportunity and support them in engaging with the resources and virtual trainings. The curriculum also includes resources for NHSC-approved site staff to help organizations cultivate clinician well-being by creating supportive, efficient, and healthy work environments. If your site is hosting NHSC Scholars and S2S LRP participants, your leadership and administrative site staff are eligible to participate in the webinars and access materials through your Site Points of Contact (POCs). Please check in with your Site POCs to ensure that they are receiving the emails and are able to forward them to the appropriate staff at your organizations.

This Initiative will be supported by HRSA for the next 3.5 years, and the current curriculum will be repeated (with updates) each year, which means your site will have future opportunities to participate if you are not currently an NHSC-approved site. If you have any questions about the Initiative and how to participate, please contact Molly Meinbresse, Associate Director of NHSC Educational Programs.