How to Pay Off Your Student Loans in Two Years

Beth Hawkes MSN, RN-BC - 05/01/19

Many registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and nurse practitioners graduate with debt in the form of Stafford loans, Perkins loans and Private loans. Debt that leaves them so crippled over the years that many are left questioning whether or not it was a good idea to invest in nursing school at all. But instead of thinking about the negative...what if you could experience another culture, have purposeful work, and get paid while the government pays off the majority student loans paid off? Or what if you could go back to school and earn a graduate degree with a scholarship?

There are many different ways to travel and immerse yourself in culturally rich communities while working as a nurse in underserved communities to make a difference in the health and lives of people who would otherwise lack access to care. Many of these opportunities are in some of the most beautiful and natural locations in the United States. 

When looking for the opportunity that’s right for you, it’s important to understand the terms that the government uses in these loan repayment programs.

Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)

The HRSA, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), administers nurse loan repayment programs. These programs are designed for healthcare professionals who commit to work in underserved areas with underserved populations for a minimum of two years. Populations include people who are geographically isolated, live with HIV/AIDS, pregnant women and more.

Learn more about these nurse loan repayment programs by visiting HRSA.

Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA)

It starts with HPSA. HPSA scores are highly important to loan repayment. HPSA is a designation determined by the HHS Secretary of a healthcare workforce or provider shortage. A population group can be designated as a HPSA, as can a geographic area, or health care facility.

Federal and state programs use HPSA designations to determine eligibility in three categories:

HPSA scores range on a scale of 0-25 for primary care and mental health. Funding preference is based on the applicant’s financial need and the facility. Priority funding is given to clinicians working at a site with a HPSA score of 14 or higher, which corresponds to greater need. You can find out more about the HPSA designation process.

Nurses are needed in correctional facilities, American Indian tribal hospitals, and behavioral health facilities.  The Indian Health Services (IHS) manages the IHS Loan Repayment Program which repays qualified student loans debts up to $20,000 per year.

Medically Underserved Areas (MUAs)

MUAS is a shortage designation. The government designates areas to be medically underserved according to four variables:

  • Ratio of primary medical care physicians per 1,000 population
  • Infant mortality rate
  • Percentage of the population with incomes below the poverty level
  • Percentage of the population age 65 or over

MUAs have high numbers of elderly and poor people who typically have chronic conditions but lack preventive care. They may not have reliable transportation, readily available services and facilities, and simply can’t access care for themselves. There may be a low nurse- to- population ratio as well as a lack of healthcare professionals overall.

Look up shortage areas here.


The NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program pays 60% of outstanding and qualifying educational nursing student loans in return for a 2-year commitment in MUAs.

NURSE Corps scholars are required to fulfill their service obligation at a Critical Shortage Facility. A Critical Shortage Facility is a health care site located in a HPSA that provides primary medical care or mental health care to underserved populations.

Critical shortage facilities can be public or private nonprofit. Examples include:

  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Critical Access Hospital
  • Health Centers

Underserved Schools of Nursing

In addition to working in a critical shortage facility, eligible nurses can serve as faculty at an underserved accredited nursing school. Funding preference is awarded to applicants working at schools where at least half of the enrolled students come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

NPs: National Health Service Corps (NHSC)

This is a program for NPs.

NPs looking to pay off student loans can apply to work in a HPSA area through (NHSC). NPs must work in a critical shortage facility to qualify. Check out the NHSC Jobs Center to help find a job at a designated facility.

NHSC is a federal program option for nurse practitioners (NPs) that includes tax-free loan repayment assistance to support qualified health care providers who choose to take their skills where they’re most needed.

NPs seeking loan repayment assistance and who prefer a high degree of autonomy should consider practicing in a MUA.  Note: NHSC also offers a scholarship program for midwives and adult care NPs

NPs: Combat the Opioid Epidemic

There are newly funded opportunities for Nurse Practionerss. National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Rural Community Loan Repayment Program (LRP) is seeking providers to combat the opioid epidemic in rural communities. Providers will provide substance use treatment, and assist in preventing opioid related deaths.

To be eligible you must be:

  • A United States citizen (U.S. born or naturalized) or United States national;
  • A provider (or be eligible to participate as a provider) in the Medicare, Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, as appropriate;
  • Fully trained and licensed to practice in the NHSC-eligible primary care medical, dental or mental/behavioral health discipline and state in which you are applying to serve; and
  • A health professional in an eligible discipline with qualified student loan debt for education that led to your degree.            

There are many opportunities for the nurse who has a passion to serve and a willingness to travel.  The benefits are immeasurable and student loan repayment provide an incentive for the nurse who is saddled with debt.