Health researchers are in high demand in the United States. If you’re interested in conducting critical research, you may qualify for NIH Loan Repayment. Under this program, the National Institutes of Health could pay off up to 50% of your college debt.
What is NIH Loan Repayment?
With the rising cost of medical school and science education, health researchers often struggle to repay their student debts. As a result, skilled scientists are often inclined to enter higher-paying private medical fields, rather than lower-paying research careers.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) counteracts this problem and strives to recruit more medical researchers by offering loan repayment opportunities. You don’t have to work for the NIH to qualify. However, you must work at least half-time (20 hours per week) on a qualified research project.
NIH LRPs are not intended to help fund research projects, but to help you overcome the financial burden of getting started in a medical research career.
How Much Does NIH Loan Repayment Pay?
If you qualify, NIH Loan Repayment can repay up to 50% of your student loan debt on your behalf. The maximum amount that the NIH will pay is $50,000 per year.
The maximum NIH LRP amount recently increased, from $35,000 to $50,000 in July 2019.
Because new LRP awards from the NIH are two-year contracts, the maximum NIH Loan Repayment Award for a single commitment is $100,000.
To receive a new LRP award, you must have at least $50,000 in eligible student debt. To obtain the maximum amount of $100,000 towards your student debt for a two-year award, you must have at least $200,000 in qualified student debt.
What Kinds of Loans Qualify for NIH Loan Repayment?
Awards and eligibility are calculated based on your educational debt. The NIH will repay your lender for qualified educational loans, including loans from US government entities, accredited academic institutions, and private lenders.
The NIH makes your loan payments every quarter, based on their loan priority order:
- Loans guaranteed by the US Department of Health and Human Services
- Loans guaranteed by the US Department of Education (federal loans, excluding Parent PLUS Loans)
- Loans guaranteed by a U.S. state, the District of Columbia, or a territory or possession of the United States
- Loans made by academic institutions
- Private (Alternative) Educational Loans
Renewing Your LRP Award
After your two-year NIH award contract has expired, you can apply for another award. This process is known as award renewal. Renewal LRP award contracts can be either one or two years. To qualify for a renewal award, you must have outstanding eligible educational debt of at least $2,000.
There is no limitation on the number of renewal awards an applicant can receive. This means that you can continue applying for subsequent awards until you’ve paid off your total debt balance.
NIH Loan Repayment Program Eligibility
As described by the NIH:
“LRP awards are based on an applicant’s potential to build and sustain a research career.”
To qualify for an NIH loan repayment program award, you must meet these general criteria:
- Be a US citizen, US national, or permanent resident by the LRP award start date;
- Have earned a doctoral degree, including the following or equivalent: M.D., Ph.D., Pharm.D., Psy.D., DO, DDS, DMD, DPM, DC, ND, OD, DVM;
- Agree to conduct qualified research, which is already funded, for at least 20 hours per week during each service period of your LRP award;
- Have qualified educational debt that is equal to or more than 20% of your base salary (calculated per the contract start date, not the application submission date), and at least $50,000 in total; and
- Agree to conduct research that is supported by a qualified nonprofit institution or US government agency.
NIH Loan Repayment Programs: Extramural and Intramural
NIH Loan Repayment is a set of eight unique programs. Congress established the NIH Loan Repayment Programs to help recruit and retain skilled health professionals in the fields of biomedical and biobehavioral research.
The eight NIH Loan Repayment Programs are broken up into two categories: extramural and intramural.
Extramural NIH LRPs are offered to healthcare professionals who do not work at NIH itself. There are currently five extramural loan repayment programs sponsored by the NIH.
Intramural NIH LRPs are offered to healthcare professionals who work as employees of the NIH. There are currently three intramural loan repayment programs offered to NIH employees.
Extramural NIH Loan Repayment Programs
Extramural Loan Repayment Programs are available to health professionals who are not employed by the NIH. Below are the five research fields that currently qualify for NIH Extramural Loan Repayment.
1. Contraception and Infertility Research
Funds Available: The NIH expects to allocate approximately $1.3 million annually to the Contraception and Infertility Research Loan Repayment Program.
Program Definition: The NIH Loan Repayment Program for Contraception and Infertility Research supports health professionals in fields that impact the ability of couples to conceive and bear children.
Qualifying Research: Qualifying research may fall into one of two definitions: contraception or infertility. Contraception research has the goal of providing improved methods of pregnancy prevention. Infertility research has the long-term goal of evaluating or treating conditions that result in the failure to conceive or bear children.
2. Health Disparities Research
Funds Available: The NIH expects to allocate approximately $4 million annually to the Health Disparities Research Loan Repayment Program.
Program Definition: The NIH Loan Repayment Program for Health Disparities Research supports investigators in minority health disparity populations. These populations are defined by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the NIMHD.
The NIH defines Health Disparity Populations as: “populations where there is significant disparity in the overall rate of disease incidence, prevalence, morbidity, mortality, or survival rates in the population as compared to the health status of the general population.”
Qualifying Research: Health Disparities Research is the basic, clinical, behavioral, or social examination of health disparities. It can include the cause of these disparities, as well as methods to prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases.
3. Clinical Research
Funds Available: The NIH expects to allocate approximately $40 million annually to the Clinical Research Loan Repayment Program.
Program Definition: The NIH Loan Repayment Program for Clinical Research supports clinical investigators who interact with (human) patients in inpatient or outpatient settings.
Qualifying Research: Clinical Research can include patient-oriented research or examinations of the causes and effects of diseases in human populations.
Researchers may have the ultimate goal of clarifying problems in disease and behavioral studies or health services research, or of developing new technologies, interventions, and clinical trials.
4. Clinical Research for Individuals from Disadvantaged Backgrounds
Funds Available: The NIH expects to allocate approximately $1 million annually to the Clinical Research for Individuals from Disadvantaged Backgrounds Loan Repayment Program.
Program Definition: The NIH Loan Repayment Program for Clinical Research for Individuals from Disadvantaged Backgrounds aims to recruit and retain qualified health professionals from disadvantaged backgrounds into clinical research fields.
The NIH defines an individual from a “disadvantaged background” as someone who:
- Comes from an environment that inhibited the individual from obtaining the knowledge, skill, and ability required to enroll in and graduate from a health professions school; or
- Comes from a family with an annual income below a level based on low-income thresholds according to family size published by the US Bureau of the Census.
Qualifying Research: Qualifying research focuses on Clinical Research, as defined above.
5. Pediatric Research
Funds Available: The NIH expects to allocate approximately $18 million annually to the Pediatric Research Loan Repayment Program.
Program Definition: The NIH Loan Repayment Program for Pediatric Research supports researchers in the field of pediatric medicine.
Qualifying Research: Qualifying research focuses directly on diseases, disorders, and other conditions in children.
Intramural NIH Loan Repayment Programs
Intramural NIH Loan Repayment Programs are available to NIH employees for research that takes place within the institution. There are three Intramural LRPs available:
1. AIDS Research
Program Definition: The AIDS NIH Loan Repayment Program supports NIH researchers conducting investigations concerning acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
Qualifying Research: AIDS Research studies the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the pathophysiology of its infection, predisposition to HIV and AIDS, and the development of treatments and vaccines.
2. Clinical Research for Individuals from Disadvantaged Backgrounds
Program Definition: The NIH Loan Repayment Program for Clinical Research for Individuals from Disadvantaged Backgrounds supports investigators who come from an environment which inhibited their ability to obtain the knowledge, skill, and expertise required to enroll and graduate from a health professional school, or who come from a low-income family.
Qualifying Research: Clinical Research includes patient-oriented research, as described in “Clinical Research,” above.
3. General Research
Program Definition: The NIH Loan Repayment Program for General Research falls into two categories: General Research and General Research for ACGME.
The General Research Program is a three-year program supporting NIH scientific researchers in many fields of research.
The General Research for ACGME is a non-competitive, three-year program that supports NIH researchers or fellows who are also in subspecialty and residency training programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).
Qualified Research: Research topics are approved by the Loan Repayment Committee of the NIH, based on the subject of the proposed research and how it relates to the priorities of the National Institute of Health.
How to Apply for NIH Loan Repayment
If the medical research described above interests you, and you’re considering applying for NIH Loan Repayment, follow the steps below.
Step 1: Access the NIH Division of Loan Repayment Website
The National Institutes of Health provides an interactive roadmap for applying Loan Repayment application. To begin your request for an LRP, you’ll need to register and obtain a Commons ID using the website.
Step 2: Find Your Deadlines and Timelines
The application for NIH Loan Repayment Programs has deadlines each year, by which you must submit your application and supporting documentation. Review the deadlines and application timeline to ensure you don’t miss your chance.
Step 3: Choose the Right LRP and Determine if You Qualify
Review the types of Loan Repayment Programs offered by the NIH and the general eligibility requirements. View the individual program pages on the NIH website to check for unique program requirements.
Step 4: Start Your Application
Once you’ve registered on the NIH website, you can begin your application. If you’ve never received a loan repayment award from the NIH before, you’ll start a New Award application. If you’ve received at least one award prior, you’ll begin a Renewal Award application.
Step 5: Submit Your Information and Documents
You’ll need to provide information about your plans for qualifying research, your short-term and long-term career goals, a personal statement, and supporting documents, including reference letters.
If you’re applying for a Loan Repayment Program for Individuals from Disadvantaged Backgrounds, you’ll need to submit verification of your disadvantaged designation. This can be via a written statement, proof of a Loan for Disadvantaged Students, or evidence of a Scholarship for Individuals with Exceptional Financial Need.
Tips for Your LRP Application
Most NIH Loan Repayment Programs are competitive. To receive an award, you not only need to qualify but also submit a highly persuasive application. Here are a few tips for writing a competitive application, offered by the National Institutes of Health:
- Demonstrate your commitment to research and your qualifications to conduct that research;
- Know the scientific mission and funding priorities of your program (i.e., clinical research, pediatrics, etc.);
- Collaborate with a mentor who is published and preferably has grant support (ideally from the NIH);
- Create a strong, innovative, and demonstrable research plan; and
- Provide persuasive letters of recommendation from senior colleagues who are familiar with your work and skills as a researcher.
You can read more about these tips and what the NIH looks for on the Loan Repayment application site.
Top Reasons for LRP Denial
The most common reasons applicants are denied for NIH Loan Repayment include weak letters of recommendation, a mediocre or redundant research plan, a rushed or last-minute application, and an inadequate research environment that isn’t conducive to the applicant’s aspirations in research.
The NIH also screens applicants for questionable research commitment. Since the goal of the NIH program is to “recruit and retain” talented health professionals in research careers, you must be committed to research as your career.
If your application does not reflect a strong commitment to your chosen field of study, or your letters of recommendation don’t reflect the same, the NIH will likely deny your application.
Learn More About NIH Loan Repayment
The NIH Loan Repayment Program is an excellent way for scientists to overcome the wage disparity between research careers and private practice or private industry careers.
There are many reasons why a physician may prefer a career in research over a career in medical practice. You may want a more predictable schedule, more variety and intellectual stimulation in your work, and the ability to get published and educate others. With help from the NIH, a career in scientific research doesn’t have to include a pay cut.
If you’re ready to apply for NIH Loan Repayment, or you need to get more information first, the best source is the NIH Division of Loan Repayment itself.
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