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Expanded Loan Forgiveness Program Aims To Bring More Health Care To Rural Nevada

A new law signed by Governor Steve Sisolak could help rural areas attract more health care professionals.

State Senator Joe Hardy from Boulder City drafted the language for the bill that was passed unanimously and signed by the governor.

It beefs up a program that provides up to $50,000 to help medical providers pay off student loan debt - if they practice in areas that are lacking health care professionals. 

Hardy told KNPR's State of Nevada any area that isn't in Clark or Washoe County suffers from a lack of health care professionals and even in those counties, there are places that don't have easy access.

"Actually, it's every part of Nevada is potential for benefitting from this opportunity to fund physicians," he said.

The state senator explained that with the state expanding the program Nevada can now leverage more dollars from the federal government. Washington D.C. will now match Nevada dollar for dollar.

"This is a loan forgiveness program that is taxfree," he said, "It requires a two-year commitment and then it can go up to six years. By the time you do that, you're probably invested in the community and they love you."

Hardy explained the program is not just for medical doctors but also for nurses, physicians assistants, dentists, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and family therapists.

The median debt for medical school in 2018 was $200,000, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. With $50,000 of tax-free funds provided by the state of Nevada to pay that back, Hardy notes "that's a good deal."

The program has been around for a while but Hardy said the Legislature and the governor have realized it is time to invest in the state's health care infrastructure. 

"We're admitting that we've got problems and we need to help people with their medical needs through the state of Nevada," he said, "This is a huge step for Nevada."

Hardy also pointed out there are a lot of reasons why people choose a rural lifestyle and health care professionals that choose it will find a deeper connection with their patients and their community.

He said that is what happened to him when he did part of his medical school residency in Elko. 

"It was wonderful," he said, "It gave me a view and a look of what Nevada was about but what people were about in rural Nevada. It was a great experience for me."


State Sen. Joe Hardy, Boulder City

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Bert is a reporter and producer based in Reno, where he covers the state legislature and stories that resonate across Nevada. He began his career in journalism after studying abroad during the summer of 2011 in Egypt, during the Arab Spring. Before he joined Nevada Public Radio and Capital Public Radio, Bert was a contributor at KQED and the Sacramento News & Review. He was also a photographer, video editor and digital producer at the East Bay Express.