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FQHCs and Dental Student Loan Repayment

An FQHC (Federally Qualified Health Center) is part of the dental safety net — these centers serve locations or populations with limited access to care. They may be located in urban or rural areas. An FQHC is often an integrated medical facility, where a patient has a single chart encompassing all care, including medical, dental and behavioral health.

Some dentists work full-time at a FQHC, while others devote part of their schedules to working for one of these centers. “It makes sense for new dentists to consider FQHCs, whether you are recently graduated from dental school or you already have years of practice under your belt,” notes Dr. Rex Yanase thirteenth district representative to the ADA New Dentist Committee, and non-voting ex officio member of the ADA Council on Access, Prevention and Interprofessional Relations. “In addition to providing a piece of the access-to-care puzzle, working for an FQHC can provide loan repayment opportunities.”

Loan repayment is available for a combined commitment that includes both a minimum number of 20 hours per week, and a minimum number of years of service. For more information, see here.

Many health centers are highly competitive and your experience can make a difference when multiple candidates are vying for limited opportunities. To locate an FQHC opportunity, first visit the National Health Services Corps website http://nhsc.hrsa.gov/ and choose the jobs center link.

In addition to narrowing your search to dentistry positions, you’ll see that opportunities are identified by a HPSA score. HPSA (say “Hip-suh”) designates Health Professional Shortage Area. The HPSA score usually is associated with a specific geographic location, but FQHCs do have a HPSA score simply due to their designation as an FQHC. The higher the HPSA score, the greater the challenges of access to care in this area. For dentistry, a HPSA score can range from 0-26. Note that there are three different varieties of HPSA scores, which are primary care (medical), dental and behavioral health.

The HPSA number matters if you plan to apply for loan repayment funds. HPSA scores allow governments to prioritize distribution of funding, and these funds are often directed towards the areas of greatest need, which is to say the highest HPSA score.

The contract for employment with an FQHC is negotiated separately from the contract for loan repayment. For FQHCs, you can’t apply for loan repayment without having first contracted for employment.

The National Health Services Corps website offers a loan repayment estimate calculator where you can propose numerous variables, including full-time or part-time employment, years-of-commitment, and whether the HPSA score is above or below fourteen. There are also descriptions of state and community loan repayment options.

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