Two weeks ago, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced a new scholarship program for PA students. Through the Health Professional Scholarship Program (HPSP), the VA will award scholarships to students receiving education or training to become a health professional. I spoke with Scott Dixon, a program support specialist with the VA, about the program details. Here is what I learned.
What does the scholarship include?
The scholarship covers the full cost of tuition for any remaining years of PA school. You are eligible to apply once you have been accepted to an accredited PA program, and you can also apply if you are already in PA school to cover any future tuition costs. If you are currently receiving any scholarships or grants, the VA scholarship would cover any remaining tuition costs.
In addition to tuition, the scholarship covers any approved fees associated with your PA program, a $1125 annual book stipend, and a $1125 monthly cost of living stipend (deposited directly into your bank account).
How are students selected?
Each group of health professionals (e.g., physical therapists, PAs, nurses) will have a separate scoring system and selection committee. Applications will be scored on a 100 point scale, with points assigned to each major application category - academic performance, work experience, faculty and employer recommendations, and career goals.
There are two preferences built into the selection process - military veteran status and students in the final 1-2 years of their education. Military veterans are given an additional 5 points in the overall calculation, so while veterans receive a slight advantage, it is not an insurmountable one for other applicants.
As mandated by Congress, students in their final 1-2 years of education are given preference for the scholarship. So, if you apply for the scholarship and are not accepted, you can apply again the following year and be more competitive because you have less time required on your scholarship.
What is the “mobility agreement” & service obligation?
The mobility agreement is a statement that you must sign prior to accepting the scholarship stating that you are willing to relocate at your own expense in the event that you are not able to be placed in a position exactly where you want to be.
There are over 150 VA locations across the U.S. where PAs might be placed. These include metropolitan and rural areas. The need for PAs varies in each location. Some metropolitan areas, like Philadelphia, have several PA schools and therefore a steady pipeline of PAs available to fill VA jobs. So, it is unlikely that a scholarship recipient would get placement in a few particular geographic areas, but this depends on the needs of the VA in the region rather than if a location is rural or metropolitan.
Scholarship recipients are asked to provide their top five places of where they want to be placed. When the locations are very specific (down to the city level), it can be hard to find a match. However, if you request more general areas like states or regions, then there is a better chance of being placed at one of your top choices.
The service obligation is fairly straightforward. If your PA program is 2 years and you receive a 2-year scholarship, you would be obligated to serve for 2 years in a row with the VA. Otherwise, the length of service would be adjusted based on the length of time you received the scholarship.
How many students will receive the scholarship?
The number of scholarships that will be awarded has yet to be determined as additional funding for the program is anticipated. There was some earlier information that anticipated 25-30 scholarships, however this estimate may grow with additional funding and depending on the school choice and program year of the early recipients.
Because scholarship awardees can attend any accredited PA school, tuition costs can vary widely and will influence the number of scholarships available.
When is the application period?
Applications are being taken now through April 30, 2017. The scholarship posting gives a March deadline, however this was adjusted because opening the application, originally anticipated in mid-January, was delayed until the end of February.
Mr. Dixon reports that as of last week, only 15 PA student applications have been received. However, he has fielded hundreds of emails about the scholarship, so interest is high, and the scholarship has not even been officially advertised yet. You have a chance to improve your odds by being early applicant, so do not delay applying if you plan to do so.
If you are not yet ready to apply this year, look for this application period to open in January in the future.
Now, go apply. Or tell someone else who has been accepted or is currently in PA school to apply. This opportunity is a profoundly generous award and could easily equate to a 6-figure scholarship.
Special thanks to Scott Dixon of the VA for providing all of his insider knowledge to help spread the word about this great opportunity.
[Be sure to check out a similar program, National Health Service Corps, which oversees a program offering full scholarships for PA students in exchange for service in medically underserved areas.]