The Oklahoma State Department of Health has launched a new loan repayment program, called OK Health Corps, for health care professionals who work in designated shortage areas in the state. This initiative is made possible thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The program provides awards of up to $50,000 to primary care, mental health, and dental health clinicians. In return, recipients must commit to serving a two-year term in community facilities certified under the National Health Services Corps, a federal program that supports providers through loan repayment. The clinic where they serve must be located in an area designated as a health professional shortage area and a site agreement must be completed.
The amount of the awards will vary depending on the specific provider’s career area. Psychiatrists can receive up to $50,000 while physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, psychiatric nurses, registered nurses, pharmacists and eligible mental health clinicians can receive up to $35,000. However, the amounts received will not exceed the outstanding balance of the individual’s qualified educational loans.
Emphasis will be placed on prioritizing candidates whose work is primarily focused on mental health and substance use disorders due to funding availability; there may be consideration for additional providers in different disciplines.
Recipients must agree to a contract with the State Department of Health pledging to either full- or part-time service. Full-time service entails 40 hours worked per week while part-time requires 20 hours per week; a minimum of 45 weeks must be worked in a service year.
Jana Castleberry, Director of the Office of Primary Care explained that this program has been instituted to provide incentives for health providers to practice in areas of significant need throughout the state