The First Care Clinic, a primary care facility in Hays, KS, has been a National Health Service Corps (NHSC) site for about two years. The clinic opened in 1997 as a branch of the local hospital, resulting from needs of the uninsured in the community. We are doing a great thing, and the NHSC is a great tool for us to recruit. It’s also been a retention tool in our clinic, because two nurse practitioners who already worked here said, “By the way, can I help pay off my student loans?” I said, “Absolutely.” So we have one provider who is taking advantage of the opportunity right now, and two who are still working to pass their board certification so that they can apply for the loan repayment program.
The area that First Care serves is the hub for western Kansas. The demographic is largely White and uninsured, and Medicaid is not a huge payer in our county. Patients generally go to the hospital or come here and apply on our sliding fee scale. I think the option of coming here is very attractive to a lot of patients. It’s rewarding when a patient starts off on our sliding fee scale, and we’re able to improve their health and they continue to come back to us when they have a job and private insurance. It’s truly great to help the people and to see them turn their lives around.
Our clinic is unique in the way we’ve been able to utilize mid-level providers. We have a Medical Director; other than that, our clinic is staffed with three nurse practitioners who provide medical services, due to the shortage of physicians and the difficulties in recruiting them to western Kansas.
The other thing is we have dental, mental health, and primary care services all under one roof. The National Health Service Corps was a big draw for our dentist, who is from Utah. We are also currently reaching out to recruit a physician from New York, and it’s a big deal for him to have loan repayment.
The program just makes sense. If you qualify, why wouldn’t you want to give your providers that extra incentive to stay with you or to come to you? One big advantage of being an NHSC-approved site is to have that job vacancy listed on the NHSC Web site. Additionally, both of our NHSC providers went to a National Health Service Corps Awardee Conference, and they both said that it was a very good experience for them and they learned a lot.