Program for rural docs has more than doubled under Obama

Just this year, HHS has awarded 247 scholarships and more than 5,400 loan repayment awards. The scholarships may medical students’ tuition in exchange for serving two to four years in an underserved area; the other awards help graduates pay down their medical-school debt in exchange for two years of service.

Sebelius said the program is especially attractive to medical students who want to practice in rural areas but can’t justify that decision after graduating with steep student loans. Many young doctors who receive the awards stay in the communities they served.

“They make a commitment that lasts a lot longer than their loan repayments,” Sebelius said.

The awards are targeted particularly to primary care. Inadequate access to primary care leads to breakdowns in prevention and poor management of long-term illnesses, HHS said.