Updated: Mar 25
It is widely feared that the United States will face a medical professional shortage worse than we saw during the pandemic. And it isn't hard to figure out why. Too many medical professionals are overworked, overwhelmed, and saddled with student debt.
And while many medical providers make really good money, for some, the money is not worth the debt and other stress. All of this makes nurse practitioners really important in society.
They're in demand. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that "overall employment of nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners is projected to grow 45 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations."
The reasons for this are easy to understand. Sure, NPs are not going to make doctor salaries, but becoming one is much cheaper than paying to attend medical school. Plus, NPs are oftentimes able to prescribe and complete other duties that doctors can.
It makes all the sense, therefore, that federal and state governments have implemented a number of student loan forgiveness programs for nurse practitioners to take advantage of.
Becoming a nurse practitioner
Becoming an nurse practitioner is no easy feat in the first place. It requires a lot of education, and you'll likely need to follow this path:
Become a Registered Nurse
Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
Complete a graduate level master's or doctoral nursing program
After all of this, nurse practitioners still need to pass the national board certification examination. To maximize your chances of success, you'll want to apply to and attend an NP school with a high pass rate on the certification exam.
Student loan forgiveness for nurse practitioners
Nurse practitioners nationwide have three main federal loan forgiveness options to pursue:
Nurse Corp Loan Repayment Program (NCLRP)
Indian Health Services Loan Repayment
1. Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)
Nurse practitioners may opt to participate in the PSLF program, which carries eligibility for total and complete student loan forgiveness after making 120 qualifying monthly payments on an income-driven repayment plan.
To qualify as a nurse practitioner, you'll need to work for a non-profit healthcare facility, or a site operated by a federal, state, or tribal government. Additionally, you'll need to have loans that are part of the Federal Direct Loan Program or consolidated into the program.
Since healthcare providers are generally highly compensated individuals, NPs may find the next program a better fit for their student loan needs, since the program is not dependent on your income and offers forgiveness more quickly.
2. Nurse Corp Loan Repayment Program (NCLRP)
The Nurse Corp LRAP is the most common program for nurse practitioners to take advantage of. The program may repay up to 85% of your outstanding student debt in exchange for three years of service.
Nurse Corp participants initially agree to serve two years working in a critical shortage facility (CSF) or as faculty members at accredited nursing schools, in exchange for forgiveness of 60% of your student debt. After your two years are complete, you'll have the option to work an additional year for the remaining 25%.
Nurse Corp Loan Repayment Program eligibility
The Nurse Corp LRAP is available to those that can meet the following eligibility requirements:
Are United States citizens or legal and permanent residents
Work full-time (a minimum of 32 hours per week) at a qualifying nursing school or critical shortage facility
Hold a post-graduate degree from an accredited nurse practitioner program
Hold current and active licensure to practice
There are no income limits to retain eligibility for loan forgiveness through Nurse Corps, but those that demonstrate clear financial need may be given priority.
My sister is a nurse practitioner currently enrolled in the Nurse Corp LRAP, so I am pretty familiar with the program. My word of advice here is to make absolutely sure that you're going to be able to fulfill your obligations under the program, or else you could face financial penalties.
Applying for Nurse Corps LRAP
Those looking to learn more or apply for the program can apply online using the application portal. The actual application itself is easy to complete, and you'll be asked to provide a lot of information, including:
Personal information including name, contact info, and your SSN
Student loan information, including your balances, terms, and rates
Other supporting documentation needed to complete your application
3. Indian Health Services Loan Repayment (IHS)
Nurse practitioners working at healthcare facilities that serve American Indian and Alaska Native communities may be eligible for the Indian Health Services Loan Repayment program (IHS).
IHS pays off up to $40,000 of your outstanding student loans in exchange for two years of service at a qualifying site. After your initial two years of service are up, you have the option to continue your service until all of your student loans are paid off in full.
IHS eligibility requirements
To participate in the IHS program, you'll need to meet the following requirements:
Be a United States citizen
Hold current and complete licensure or be in the final year of a nurse practitioner degree program (postgraduate)
The program does note that priority is given to practicing American Indians and Alaskan Natives, but all are welcome to apply.
Applying for IHS is easy, and you can get started by creating an IHS online account.
State student loan forgiveness programs
Most all states offer their own student loan forgiveness programs, and many of these are designed specifically for medical providers and even nurse practitioners in particular. Below are a couple examples of some of these programs.
1. California's State Loan Repayment Program (SLRP)
California's SLRP is a great example of a student loan forgiveness program for NPs and other healthcare providers practicing in state-designated health professional shortage areas (HPSAs). The program repays up to $50,000 of your eligible student loans if you meet the following qualifying criteria:
You are a United States citizen
You are licensed to practice medicine in the state of California
Free from any other service requirements for debt forgiveness
You work or have accepted a job offer at a state HPSA site
Those working forty-hour full-time jobs will serve two-year commitments, while those working part-time will be expected to serve out a four-year commitment.
2. Ohio's State Loan Repayment Program (LRAP)
Ohio has a very similar program to California's, including offering the same $50,000 in assistance for a two-year commitment. Extensions of service could bring your total assistance to $120,000 over four years, and like California's SLRP, you'll also need to work in a health professional shortage area (or a federally designated health resource shortage area).
Make sure to check for applicable programs in your state as well.
How to pick the right forgiveness program
Before you decide which of these programs may be worth pursuing, we recommend that you look at the pros and cons of each of them. Furthermore, you're going to need to consider a couple of main variables including:
The location of the site at which you provide medical care
Whether you practice at an HPSA
Let's take each of those variables in more detail.
1. Your employment location
Nurse practitioner student loan forgiveness is highly dependent on the location of your employment, and not only for those state sponsored programs. Obviously, most NPs across the nation will not qualify for IHS, for example, but in the event that you do serve American Indian or Alaskan Natives, IHS could be an awesome program. The same holds true for other programs as well.
2. Whether you work at an HPSA
This variable goes hand in hand with the first point, but whether or not you practice within an HPSA will also play a large role in the programs that are available to you. Those that serve as NPs in shortage areas will have more options available to them.
Above anything else, you'll want to be sure to do your homework to assure that you pick the right program for you. Of course, doing this is easier said than done, especially for those that work as nurse practitioners, since NPs can practice at a plethora of different sites.
Nurse practitioner student loan forgiveness tips
Nurse practitioners pursuing student loan forgiveness have a lot of things to keep in mind to assure they make a good decision - that is a fact. But to guide them in the right direction, we recommend that they ask themselves the following questions:
Are you prepared to meet the service requirement of a program? Each forgiveness program will carry a service requirement that you must meet in order to receive the financial benefits of a program. You'll want to be sure that you are prepared to meet these requirements of whatever program you apply to.
Make sure you pick the most lucrative program you can: Now, this is not a hard and fast rule. For example, you may forego PSLF because you'll need to make ten years of payments before you receive forgiveness, even if it will be the most lucrative. But nurse practitioners should also do their homework to assure that they are not leaving forgiveness dollars on the table because they didn't do enough research.
Refinance your student debt
Some nurses and nurse practitioners won't qualify for any of the forgiveness programs we've mentioned so far, and that's okay. Thankfully, there are other options out there, and depending on your loan situation, none may be more advantageous than refinancing your existing loans with a private lender.
Refinancing is intended to achieve one of more of the following objectives:
Lower your monthly payments
Lower the interest rate on your debt
Select a new loan term that works better for you (extend or shorten)
In some instances, it may even be possible for you to lower your monthly payments, lock in a lower rate, and get out of debt faster.
We usually recommend that nurse practitioners check out refinancing with Splash Financial first, since they are a marketplace that will automatically aggregate rates from their network of lenders for you. A simple rate check with Splash takes less than five minutes and will not impact your credit until you accept terms for your refinanced loan(s). In other words, you have nothing to lose from simply checking your rate.
Download our student loan calculator
We also built a student loan calculator designed to help you make the best decision possible, regardless of whether you decide to pursue forgiveness or not. Here's how it works.
You'll answer some questions for us about your loans and then we'll model your projected monthly payments, balance remaining, and forgiveness balance (if applicable) under the following strategies:
This calculator will help you save thousands of dollars.
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