Post-graduate Job Selection and Student Loan Management

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By Hannah Clark

Accumulation of student loans is a harsh reality for thousands of American students seeking higher education, but O&P graduates may find student loan repayment offered as part of a benefits package.

"Many employers use these benefit packages as the means to recruit prospective employees, therefore it is okay to start the conversation about student loan repayment benefits after the employer seems interested in your services. When negotiating salaries and benefits, it's important to know who has the upper hand; the job market is a tough one, but orthotic and prosthetic student graduates have the advantage of high demand," accountant Francisco Lopez Garcia told me.

It never hurts to ask any employer to consider offering this benefit, but here are a few options I know about.

Hanger

With over 650 patient care facilities in the United States, the likelihood of a CPO working for a Hanger clinic at some point in their career is high. If you find yourself with a job offer at Hanger and are still paying off student loans, ask about their repayment benefits. Not all Hanger clinics offer loan repayment assistance, but they have the framework to do so and have done it in the past, so it is worth asking.

Veterans Affairs

Look for VA jobs with the acronym EDRP. Education Debt Repayment Plan benefits offer employees in difficult-to-recruit patient care positions up to $200,000 over a five-year period to be paid to lenders. Qualifying educational costs include living expenses, fees, books, supplies, equipment, materials, and laboratory costs.

If you see a VA job posting that doesn't have an EDRP, ask about a Student Loan Repayment Plan when submitting your application. The VA allows select employees to receive up to $10,000 per year (with a lifetime maximum of $60,000) to help repay student loans.

Indian Health Service

The Indian Health Service (IHS) is a government organization that provides medical services to members of Native American tribes and Alaskan Native people, who have high incidences of diabetes and peripheral arterial disease and limited access to O&P care. Some IHS jobs offer a Loan Repayment Program that  pays up to $40,000 of eligible clinicians' student loans. In return, employees commit to working in a practice that serves American Indian and Alaska Native communities for two years.

National Health Service Corps

The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) has defined some rural or remote areas as Health Profession Shortage Areas. Clinics in these locations can apply through the NHSC program for a State Loan Repayment Program grant which provides funds to offer student loan repayment. Similar programs may also exist at the state level.

Garcia cautions job seekers to consider the fine print of any offer. "As a general rule, sacrificing retirement accounts for repayment assistance programs is not a good idea for the long term." The money paid by employers toward student loans counts as taxable income, while 401k retirement plans are tax deferred.

Aside from the financial aspects, every graduate should weigh the pros and cons of a job offer and choose the facility where he or she feels appreciated and supported.

Hannah Clark is a student in the Baylor College of Medicine Orthotics and Prosthetics Program class of 2021.