Financial Assistance for Those in Physician Assistant Programs

Congratulations!You’ve been accepted to an accredited physician assistant program. You studied hard and your efforts have paid off; however, there is another hurdle to clear before you can rest easy—affording the tuition. How are you going to afford PA school when the director of the program strongly advises against any of the PA students working while in the program?

Costs begin to add up in your head. You hear the figurative cha-ching of a cash register rattle around your brain. There are textbooks to be purchased and lab and equipment fees to be considered, and some programs even require you to carry certain kinds of insurance (health and professional) while you’re in school.

Getting admitted to a physician assistant program is only the start.

Don’t worry. There are plenty of grants, scholarships, and financial aid possibilities that will help alleviate the pressure of paying for PA school. Many agencies are out there looking to give money—money you won’t have to repay—to dedicated hard-working students. It may take some effort on your part, but the time you spend finding financial assistance now will pay off with ease of mind later. You don’t want financial worries to clutter your mind while you’re busy studying to be a PA. This article touches on different ways to defray the often steep costs you may encounter.

Grants

What, exactly, is a grant? “A higher education grant is a sum of money that students use directly toward paying for their education…a grant is essentially a gift of money, so it usually comes with the understanding that it will be used only for the higher education program the grant sponsor reviewed, and with the expectation that you will fulfill your education program and use what you’ve learned to create a better future for yourself (and perhaps for others)” (educationgrant.com., n.d.). There are a number of organizations that award educational grants. The best place to begin your grant search is with the government. The U.S. Department of Education website lists a host of grant competitions and opportunities. The site also explains everything a student needs to know about grants and the grant process. Financial grants, unlike scholarships, are given based on need more than merit. “Grants are often narrowly tailored for specific audiences, such as minority students, disabled students, students from very low-income families, students of a certain age, students enrolling in certain programs (such as healthcare or technology) students at a specific degree level in school, and more” (educationgrant.com., n.d.). The American Academy of Physician Assistants (aapa.org) provides a list of healthcare companies and organizations that award grants to PA students. Investigate both your state and federal government health services websites. PA students in Wisconsin, for example, were given a grant opportunity for PAs willing to provide health care in underserved areas of the state. “A new, federally funded grant awarded to the UW-Madison Physician Assistant program at the School of Medicine and Public Health is aimed at helping Wisconsin communities “grow” more physician assistants.” If you live in an area in need of more health care providers, grant opportunities abound.

Financial Assistance for Those in Physician Assistant Programs

The PELL Grant is one of the more well-known educational grants. To get a PELL Grant a student must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Federal Pell Grants (helpful site here) “depend on financial need, costs to attend school, status as a full-time or part-time student, and plans to attend school for a full academic year or less. PELL Grants do not have to be repaid and the maximum award for the 2010-11 year was $5,550” (ed.gov., 2010).

Filling out the FAFSA form is the best way to discover the grants for which you are eligible. “The process (for applying for grants) is easy, and the U.S. Department of Education will be providing over 80 billion dollars in financial aid this year to students, so the payoffs can be plentiful for those who qualify” (alliedhealthschools.com, 2011).

Some other examples of Federal Student Aid grants include the following:

  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG)
  • Academic Competitiveness Grants (ACG)
  • National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (National SMART)
  • Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants (TEACH)
  • Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership (LEAP) and Special LEAP Grants

Scholarships

Most educational scholarships are awarded on the basis of merit. If you’ve worked hard and received above average grades during your tenure as an undergraduate student, your hard work will most likely be rewarded in the form of a scholarship to PA school. Many organizations base their scholarships awards on community service as well, so any volunteerism or health-related work you’ve done may come in handy. To begin your search for PA scholarships, just type in “educational scholarships for physician assistants” in your web browser and watch the choices pop up in front of you. There are scholarships available to almost anyone for almost any course of study. Some scholarships pay the full cost of the tuition—whatever the length of the program—and some cover a partial amount. Again, the American Academy of Physician Assistants and the Physician Assistant Education Association are great places to start when researching possible scholarships. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (nhsc.hrsa.gov) is another viable option. The department awards the National Health Services Corp Scholarship, which pays the student’s tuition, incidental fees, miscellaneous educational expenses, and living expenses. In return, the student must agree to work for 2 years or more in an approved, underserved part of the country. This program “accepts applications once a year from students who are enrolled or accepted for enrollment at an accredited health professions training program in an eligible primary care discipline: medicine (MD or DO), dentistry, family nurse practitioner, certified nurse midwife or physician assistant.” One can seek scholarships from local organizations, hospitals, or religious groups. Military service provides another prospect for scholarships. The Society of Army Physician Assistants (SAPA) awards $6,000 annually (if funds are available) to any army veteran, active soldier, or reservist enrolled in an accredited PA program. Applications for this scholarship need to be received by February 1st of each scholarship cycle year.

CollegeScholarships.org is another great resource for those seeking financial assistance. This site offers a number of scholarship suggestions for prospective PA students. The African Heritage Caucus of the Academy of Physician Assistants offers scholarships for minorities in PA programs; the DownEast Association of Physician Assistants awards $1,000 annually to any PA student who is a resident of Maine. The website also lists a number of scholarship opportunities for students in Wisconsin (Physician Assistant Scholarships, 2011).

Scholarships range from $500 annually to covering the full cost of tuition. Many scholarships are specifically aimed at a certain demographic, such as scholarships for women. Scholarships are available based on gender, nationality, race, academic merit, community service, and religious and work affiliations. There are creative ways to receive financial assistance and many people looking to help you achieve your goal of becoming a physician assistant.

Financial Aid for the PA Student

If you need financial aid while in PA school, chances are you’re not the only one. Most college students need some type of financial assistance in order to complete their education, and this is especially true for PA students. According to the Federal Student Aid website, “Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education, ensures that all eligible individuals can benefit from federally funded financial assistance for education beyond high school…Federal Student Aid plays a central and essential role in supporting postsecondary education by providing money for college to eligible students and families…the federal student aid programs are authorized under Title IV of the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965. They include federal grants, loans and work-study programs.” When applying for financial aid, the first thing you should do is visit your school’s financial aid office and fill out a FAFSA form (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Your school’s financial aid office is often the best resource for helping you get the money you need to attend the program. The FAFSA website (fafsa.ed.gov) is also beneficial to students going through this process and reminds the student to be particularly aware of deadlines, which are present on the federal, state, and collegiate levels.

Federally reimbursed work-study programs are also available. Work-study programs offer part-time employment to students while they are enrolled in school. Students are paid directly and schools are responsible for administering the program. The amount the student is paid depends on the student’s needs and the school’s funding level. Even though many PA programs advise their students against working during the program, not working is unavoidable for some and work-study programs provide a practical solution for these students. Many schools offer tuition abatement for students who work as graduate teaching or research assistants. Paid internships are another way one might ease tuition costs while acquiring experience in a health care setting.

Loans

Student (educational) loans fall under the heading of financial aid and must be repaid with interest. “More than $100 billion in federal education loans and $10 billion in private student loans are originated each year” (Kantrowicz, 2011). If you’re a student in a PA program, it’s likely you and your colleagues are in the same financial boat: you’re all receiving financial aid. There are many different types of loans out there, so do your homework and find the one that works best for you. Loans are either subsidized or unsubsidized. A subsidized loan is one in which the interest on the loan is paid for by an agency (for example the government or the bank) other than the borrower.

There are two types of federal college loans : the Direct Loan Program and Federal Perkins Loans. Funds from the Direct Loan Program are borrowed directly from the U.S. Treasury (Federal Student Aid, 2010) and include subsidized and unsubsidized loans. The Federal Perkins Loans are awarded to those in greater financial need. “These loans are made through participating schools to undergraduate, graduate and professional students” (Federal Student Aid, 2010).

Some examples of student loans for PAs include Sallie Mae Tuition Pay Plans and the National Health Services Corp Loan Repayment Program (aapa.org., n.d.). The latter “is available to primary care physician assistants.” The website states, “You must agree to provide primary care services in a priority health professional shortage area for a minimum period of two year.” Parent PLUS loans also exist for those baccalaureate students still dependent upon their parents, and it is the parents’ responsibility to repay these loans. “Parents of dependent students can take out loans to supplement their children’s aid packages. The Federal Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) lets parents borrow money to cover any costs not already covered by the student’s financial aid package, up to the full cost of attendance” (Kantrowitz, 2011). When looking into borrowing money from either the government or private banking institution make sure you examine and understand the interest rates and reimbursement terms of the loan. Tuition refund insurance is available for your protection should you have to withdraw from school due to illness or personal emergency causing interference with your use of the loan or inability to repay on the initial terms set forth in the loan agreement.

Whatever your need, financial help exists. Spend the time researching all avenues of financial aid. Having this issue addressed and planned out ahead of time will spare you stress while in PA school.



Last Updated: 08/20/2013

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