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Mark Chavez

The NIH Loan Repayment Program

Posted on June 20, 2011

Mark Chavez (bio) describes the benefits of the extramural NIH loan repayment program.


Q: What are the NIH loan repayment programs?
A: The loan repayment programs support clinically trained investigators in patient-oriented research careers. The loan repayment programs are internal (for researchers who are internal to NIH) and external (for researchers who are external to NIH). Successful applicants have a portion of their educational debt paid off.
Q: What are the eligibility requirements?
A: The eligibility requirements for the loan repayment programs include:
  • Being a citizen, a national, or a permanent resident of the United States.
  • Having a health professional degree, normally a doctoral degree. The specific degree requirements change for each program.
  • Having a qualified amount of educational debt. What that means is that you have educational debt equal to or greater than 20% of your institutional base salary. If your base salary is $56,000 and your debt is equal to or greater than $11,200, then your debt would qualify.
  • Being engaged in at least 50% effort on qualified research. So if you spend more than 20 hours per week on research regularly as part of your official job duties, then your percent effort would probably qualify. The kind of research and its funding are also important here. Your research needs to be funded by a nonprofit foundation, a university, or a similar organization. Some foundations or professional associations might qualify. Many for-profit research ventures, though, would not qualify.
If you have questions about any of these qualifications, try contacting the Loan Repayment Program Liaison in your area.
Q: What are some of the benefits of the loan repayment program?
A: The program can repay up to a maximum of $35,000 per year toward loans. The programs are also transferable. Changing institutions doesn't affect the repayment program as long as the new institution still meets the general eligibility criteria for funding.
Q: How long does the loan repayment program last?
A: The initial award lasts for two years. You can also try for a competitive extension for up to two years after that.
Q: How is the loan repayment program's review different from a grant review?
A: While the loan repayment program application does involve peer review, the criteria are a bit more subjective than with research grants. For example, the program was originally designed to help foster physician scientist research careers. If someone is already in the middle stages of a career and has received an R01 or similar grants, the odds are good that the researcher is already well on his or her way to an established research career and thus less likely to need the loan repayment program's assistance.

The reviewers take several elements into consideration, including:
  • Past training and experience preparing for the chosen research career
  • Likely effectiveness of the research and career development plans
  • Commitment to a research career
  • Strength of the letters of recommendation
  • Quality of the research environment, including mentors, facilities, and other institutional resources
Q: What are the program areas for the loan repayment program?
A: The program areas include clinical research, pediatric research, health disparities research, contraception and infertility research, and clinical research for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Q: Where do I apply for the NIH loan repayment program?
A: After reviewing the current program offerings, reviewing the loan repayment program tips, and collecting your application materials, you can submit materials through the loan repayment program's online application.



Adapted from a presentation at the 2006 Career Development Institute for Psychiatry in Pittsburgh, PA.


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