Thinking back to my post on when to get out of medicine if you’re unhappy, I completely forgot to mention this option as a viable resource for those wishing to pursue a career in research or to eliminate some of the accumulated educational debt.
What Is It?
The NIH loan repayment program is essentially a 2 year research commitment in a government-funded or non-profit research environment. They will repay up to $70,000 in educational debt at $35,000 per year. In addition, they will also pay federal tax payments for credit to your IRS tax account at the rate of 39% of each loan repayment to cover your increased federal taxes.
At first glance, $35,000 per year might not seem like a lot, but combine that with the tax benefits and the fact that you will also be earning a salary while conducting research and this is a really good deal. If $70,000 in loan repayments isn’t enough (and for most students, it won’t be), they do offer programs for additional loan repayment after the first two years.
5 Repayment Programs
There are five repayment programs available to choose from.
- Loan Repayment for Clinical Research
- Loan Repayment for Pediatric Research
- Loan Repayment for Health Disparities Research
- Loan Repayment for Clinical Researchers from Disadvantaged Backgrounds
- Loan Repayment for Contraception and Infertility Research
- Doctorate-level degree
- Government research funding (Federal, state or local) or domestic nonprofit research funding
- Student loan debt equal to at least 20% of annual salary
- U.S. citizenship or permanent residency
- Non-Federal government job
Let’s just assume that a student’s research salary is $40,000 per year. 20% of this figure is only $8,000. It’s safe to say that every medical student who even looked at loan will meet this requirement.
One thing to keep in mind is that loan repayment programs (LRPs) are not available to federal employees working full-time. However, federal research employees working 20 hours per week or less are qualified. An NIH grant is not required.
Loans that are issued by federal, local, or state governments, by your academic institution, or by commercial lenders qualify for LRP. If you have a loan it qualifies, unless your uncle Billy decided to fork over the cash for medical school.
Be careful with consolidation. The LRP states that it’s OK to consolidate your educational loans, but keep them purely educational. In other words, don’t consolidate your educational loans with your house payment, as this could cause eligibility problems.
Strategy for Acceptance
The best strategy to get the most bang for your buck and to maximize your chances for acceptance into the program is to attempt to find full-time employment in a non-profit laboratory.
Another option is to work part-time at a government-funded lab, and pick up other part-time work to help cover expenses. If you don’t have any other expenses to cover, then by all means stick to the part-time work and enjoy the hell out of life.
Head over to the official NIH LRP site, and read through all of the fine print if you’re interested. I really just touched the surface in a quick review of the program, but I think it has a lot of potential for those students with high debt burdens.
Combine a $35,000 yearly research salary with another $35,000 in loan repayment, and you’re essentially making $70,000 per year in research. Add on the tax benefits and it’s even more. You can’t go wrong with at least applying to the program, especially if you’re interested in pursuing a career in research after medical school.