PA School Scholarships
Student. Loans. Perhaps the most dreaded combination of words known in academia, due to their long course and consequence. During PA school, it did not matter much to me. My classmates and I would rejoice the day that graduate plus loans were dispersed, going out for a nice meal or something to take our mind off studying. As a clinician, student loans matter much more to me, because now I am obligated to pay them! Today, we are going to review PA school scholarships, particularly the NHSC PA scholarship, the VA physician assistant scholarship and PA school scholarships 2020.
UNDERGRADUATE VS GRADUATE
During the undergraduate application, I recall the great thing about applying was that someone else did all the work for you. They reviewed your application and then like magic, you were offered an admission and a scholarship, hoping the more zeroes after it, the better. In what can sometimes be a cruel world of graduate education, you receive an acceptance, but then realize that you have to somehow figure out how to pay this six figure tuition. It is a major challenge that many students face and one that I personally did not prepare myself much for.
GRAD PLUS LOANS
As I mentioned above, many students are forced to take out the “grad plus” loan, which is a higher interest loan offered to graduate students, PA students included. By the close of PA school, I had many grad plus loans, all accruing interest from the minute they were disbursed and all expected to be paid back upon my graduation. With the rigor of PA school, simply passing and moving on to the next round is usually the student’s main motivation, so interest rates, scholarships, and other financial help unfortunately get pushed to the back burner.
The time between getting an acceptance and starting PA school is full of many things:
- Planning to move
- The logistics of moving
- Buying books and medical supplies
- Leaving current careers
- Moving families across the country
- and a whole list of other added stressors.
You may hate me for saying this, but I am going to add one more thing to the list: applying for scholarships. During this potential downtime and preparation, it is important to consider financial security for the future. The less debt burden taken on by a student, the quicker path they have to financial independence post-graduation.
SEARCHING AND APPLYING FOR SCHOLARSHIPS
It may be difficult, but setting aside time, even if it is just a few hours per week to look for scholarships, is very important. My advice: apply to as many scholarships as humanly possible. Why? Well because if you apply for twenty scholarships and win three, you are still saving thousands of dollars off your education, which is absolutely fantastic. If we were to look at the math of taking out, let’s say $5,000 less of a student loan at a high interest rate; say 6-7.5%, you are saving much, much more than just simply winning a scholarship!
WHERE DO I EVEN START?
Figuring out where to start can be overwhelming. This is probably the single largest barrier that de-motivated me during my PA school time. The good thing is that once you weed through the scholarships that do not apply, it becomes very easy. Many scholarships are based on:
- Primary residence
- And other requirements
So quickly eliminating the ones that you do not qualify for, helps to make things easier.
SCHOLARSHIPS FOR PA STUDENTS
There are scholarships that are available for simply being a PA student, which would be the easiest to qualify for. Many states offer graduate level scholarships or grants that are available to students who apply to the medical field. These are the easiest to consider, as there are not a lot of requirements that would eliminate candidates.
SPECIALTY RELATED SCHOLARSHIPS
One of the great things available to students who are in their clinical year or taking a job in a particular specialty is that there are numerous awards that are available for a specific specialty. Amounts vary, but for example both the American Academy of Emergency Medicine PAs, orthopedics, and surgery all have a few scholarships available. Many states also have individual scholarships available at the state level.
JOB RELATED SCHOLARSHIPS
As a student progresses through their PA education, the opportunities for scholarships and commitments increases both in number as well as level of scholarship. With this, institutions are no longer looking to give a student a quick $1,000 for writing a good essay, but are looking to award a much larger amount, for a longer commitment to work in a particular setting. Before we begin, let me say, I am in no way recommending any particular program or avenue. The individual decision to work in a particular specialty, whether it be underserved, or pursue a different avenue, is entirely the students!
HEALTH PROFESSIONS SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM – MILITARY SERVICE
One of the most known is the HPSP or Health Professions Scholarship Program, which is a government/military program that sponsors students in exchange for military students. Students who apply are under the understanding that they are responsible for serving in that respective branch of the military for the same number of years that they use the scholarship for. For example, if you were accepted and used the scholarship for two years of PA school, you would then be committed to a 2-year service. Students who take advantage of this program also enjoy stipends for books and living, paid monthly.
WORKING FOR THE UNDERSERVED - NHSC
Another avenue that many students consider and eventually take advantage of is the National Health Service Corps, or NHSC. This is a program that aims to put clinicians in underserved areas to help address health inequalities across the country. Once accepted, a student must remain in good standing in their PA program and then commit to serving at an underserved location for several years. Students are also given a monthly stipend, which is listed as $1,419, on the NHSC application guideline. Another good thing to know is that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the deadline for this has been extended to May 15.
The challenge is that the NHSC is a competitive program. According to the website’s application guideline, only about 10% of applications are accepted. Once the application is received, the program looks at the HPSA score (Health professional Shortage Area) and then determines whether an acceptance is warranted. One of the perks as well is that the award is not subject to federal income tax. Many clinicians end up staying on longer than their initial commitment, due to the rewarding nature of working with the underserved.
VA PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT SCHOLARSHIP
Another avenue that is available is the VA physician assistant scholarship. Similar to the NHSC option, this involves a commitment for the student to work at a particularly underserved VA after graduation. The program is fairly new, with its’ initial status beginning in 2017. A student is able to begin the application process once they are enrolled in a PA program and the program will pay tuition for the remainder of the schooling. There are also stipends annually for books as well as monthly. This is under the understanding that the student would then serve as a provider at a VA location. One of the challenges potentially with this program is that the program may dictate where clinicians are needed. This could be difficult in certain situations.
I hope that today’s article has been a good introduction into the world of PA scholarships and the available post-graduate commitments one could possibly explore. The possibilities are literally endless, so when you have the time, take a look, do some research and you might just be surprised by what you qualify for.
American Academy of Physician Assistants (2019). VA Providing Scholarships for PA Students’ Master’s Degree. Date of Access April 18 2020.
National Health Service Corps Application Packet (2020). Date of access 18 April 2020.
VA Physician Assistant Health Services Application Information (2020). Date of access 18 April 2020.
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