Pursuing a passion; Federal program allows local health worker to achieve a dream.
WORCESTER - After earning her graduate nursing degree from University of Massachusetts Medical School in 2009, Cailin E. Duram was finally able to clutch her nursing diploma in her hands. However, along with her newly acquired degree came one more thing: bills.
To be exact, $128,000 in loan repayment bills, which included loans for her undergraduate degree.
Fresh out of nursing school, Ms. Duram envisioned herself working in a community health center, pursuing her passion to work with refugees, a passion developed during a refugee clerkship at the medical school. However, her sizable loan forced her to juggle career goals and financial commitments.
She found someone who understood her plight.
She connected with the National Health Service Corps, which provides health care providers with an incentive to work in underserved areas, despite lower salary offerings, by awarding them student loan repayments and scholarships. The organization made it possible for Ms. Duram to sync her passion with her loan repayment obligation.
"It's life changing to have your student loan debt forgiven," she said.
This year, the organization expects to give out around 3,800 new loan repayments and 225 scholarships to working health practitioners like Ms. Duram, who are feeling the tug of being tied to their loans. The program benefits a slew of working health practitioners, as well as underserved patients.
The program, projected to include 9,300 doctors, dentists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, behavioral health specialists, and other health practitioners working nationally by 2012, is constantly expanding, said Rebecca H. Spitzgo, director of the National Health Service Corps.
"Strengthening and growing the primary care workforce is critical to increasing access to health care in underserved communities," Ms. Spitzgo said. "The NHSC is expanding, and with providers like Cailin Duram, we can help fulfill the need for primary care practitioners and our mission of building healthier communities."
For Ms. Duram, 32, who grew up in North Andover, the decision to apply to the service corps was easy. Not only does the corps enable her to take a hefty bill off the table, but she can also pursue her passion of working with refugees: She is a family nurse practitioner at the primary refugee health assessment site in Central Massachusetts, the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center in Great Brook Valley. It is one of more than 10,000 NHSC-approved sites.
Going to work at the health center felt like a logical fit to Ms. Duram.
The facility strives "to make health care more accessible for patients having difficulty navigating the health care system," according to marketing manager Marcy Ravech. Ms. Duram said her experience at the health center has been fruitful. She has no plans to leave, and hopes to extend her contract with the service corps.
"I've learned a lot, I've learned that there is no one correct approach when working with so many backgrounds," she said. "I like the work that I do. I don't have any plans to change it."
The service corps gets its funding from a variety of federal sources. Among them are the Affordable Care Act, the Recovery Act, and a base appropriation from the federal budget.
CUTLINE: Cailin Duram, left, a nurse practitioner at the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center, works with medical assistant Januka Khanal last week.
PHOTOG: T&G Staff/STEVE LANAVA