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NIH Loan Repayment Programs

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Loan Repayment Programs are a set of programs established by Congress to recruit and retain highly qualified health professionals into biomedical or biobehavioral research careers. The escalating costs of advanced education and training in medicine and clinical specialties are forcing some scientists to move from careers in research to higher-paying private industry or practice careers.

The Loan Repayment Programs repay up to $50,000 per year of qualified educational debt for scientists engaging in research relevant to the NIH mission. Since tomorrow's medical breakthroughs will be made by investigators starting their research careers today, the programs represent an important investment by NIH in the future of health discovery and the well-being of the Nation.

There are two Loan Repayment Programs:

  • The extramural program for researchers at universities, medical centers, or other institutions who are not employed by NIH
  • The intramural program for researchers employed by NIH

Research funding from NIH is not required to participate in the Extramural Loan Repayment Programs, and awardees in both programs may apply for subsequent, competitive renewal awards if they meet the eligibility requirements.

More than 1,600 scientists receive contracts from the Loan Repayment Programs each year.

Loan Repayment Programs participants stay in research careers longer, apply for and receive more research grants, and are more likely to become independent investigators than their peers who do not receive program funding.

NIMH awarded $4.68 million to 90 applications in fiscal year 2021.

NIMH Participation in the Extramural Loan Repayment Programs

NIMH participates in four Extramural Loan Repayment Programs:

  1. Clinical Research

    The objective of the Clinical Research Program is to recruit and retain highly qualified health professionals into biomedical or biobehavioral research careers.

    NIH defines clinical research as:

    • Patient-oriented research conducted with human subjects
    • Research on the causes and consequences of disease in human populations involving material of human origin (such as tissue specimens and cognitive phenomena) for which an investigator or colleague directly interacts with human subjects. This interaction may take place in an outpatient or inpatient setting to clarify a problem in human physiology, pathophysiology or disease, or epidemiological or behavioral studies, outcomes or health services research, or developing new technologies, therapeutic interventions, or clinical trials.

  2. Pediatric Research

    The objective of the Pediatric Research Program is to recruit and retain highly qualified health professionals into biomedical or biobehavioral research careers in pediatric research.

    NIH defines pediatric research as research directly related to diseases, disorders, and other conditions in children. Pediatric research does not need to involve human subjects.

  3. Health Disparities Research

    The objective of the Health Disparities Research Program is to recruit and retain highly qualified health professionals into research careers that focus on minority or other health disparities.

    The program serves as an avenue for NIH to engage and promote the development of research and research programs that reflect the variety of issues and problems associated with disparities in health status. This requirement highlights the need for a cadre of culturally competent health professionals in minority health disparities and other health disparities research.

    Research focused on diseases or conditions more prevalent or associated with greater morbidity or mortality in one or more minority health disparities or other health disparity populations, without the proposed work itself being focused on improving minority health disparities or other health disparities, is not considered health disparities research.

  4. Research in Emerging Areas Critical to Human Health (REACH)

    The objective of REACH is to recruit and retain highly qualified health professionals into research careers to pursue major gaps in biomedical and biobehavioral research and expand research in emerging areas critical to human health. Emerging areas are considered new areas of biomedical and biobehavioral research that are ripe for targeted investments that can have a transformative relevance and impact for years to come.

    NIMH will prioritize applications from investigators with clinically-oriented degrees who are licensed to practice medicine and conduct basic research aligned with NIMH’s strategic plan. Such degrees include, but are not limited to, M.D. and M.D/Ph.D.

    NIMH encourages applications from investigators from diverse backgrounds, including those from groups underrepresented in biomedical sciences that are conducting basic research (see Notice of NIH’s Interest in Diversity, NOT-OD-20-231).

Questions about eligibility?

If you have questions about the eligibility requirements or want to know if your research fits within the NIMH mission, please contact us before you apply! Email the NIMH Loan Repayment Program coordinator at NIMHLRP@mail.nih.gov.

If you have questions about financial and qualifying loan debt, you can contact lrp@nih.gov.

General Eligibility Criteria

  • Applicants must be U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or permanent residents of the United States.
  • Applicants for the program must possess an M.D., Ph.D., Pharm.D., Psy.D., D.O., D.D.S., D.M.D., D.P.M., D.C., N.D., O.D., D.V.M., or equivalent doctoral-level degree from an accredited institution.
  • Applicants must have total qualifying educational debt equal to or more than 20% of their institutional annual base salary at the time of the award. Institutional annual base salary is the annual amount the organization pays for the individual's appointment, whether the time is spent on research, teaching, patient care, or other activities. Institutional annual base salary excludes any income that an applicant may earn outside of the duties of the organization. This criterion does not apply to applicants for a renewal award.
  • Applicants must be employed by and conducting qualifying research (as defined above) supported by a domestic nonprofit foundation (e.g., universities), professional nonprofit association, or other nonprofit institution, or a U.S. government agency (federal, state, or local). A domestic foundation, professional association, or institution is nonprofit if exempt from federal tax under the provisions of Section 501 of the Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C. 501). NIH grants and university salaries are considered eligible funding.
  • Part-time federal employees (50% or less) who are not conducting research as a federal employee and whose funding source is from a domestic nonprofit source, are eligible to apply for loan repayment if they meet all other eligibility requirements.
  • Applicants must agree to conduct only research that is not prohibited by federal law, regulations, or policies of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or NIH. Applicants who receive Loan Repayment Program awards must conduct their research in accordance with applicable federal, state, and local law (such as applicable human subject protection regulations) for the entire award period. Additionally, awardees must engage in qualified research for an average of at least 20 hours per week during each quarterly service period of the program award.
  • No individual may submit more than one Loan Repayment Program application to the NIH in any fiscal year. Individuals who have applied previously for the program, but did not receive an award, are eligible to apply for a new award if they meet all the above eligibility criteria.
  • Recipients of a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) individual postdoctoral fellowship (F32) or those supported by an NRSA institutional research training grant (T32) are eligible for loan repayment. There is a NRSA service payback period during the second year of NRSA support. and concurrent fulfillment of the Loan Repayment Programs and NRSA service obligations is prohibited. Therefore, NRSA recipients must be granted a formal extension of the NRSA service payback to be eligible to participate in the Loan Repayment Programs during their second year of NRSA support (see http://grants1.nih.gov/training/payback.htm).

Benefits

In exchange for a two-year research commitment, NIH will:

  • Repay qualified educational debt up to $50,000 per year
  • Reimburse federal taxes resulting from your repayment award
  • Repay qualified educational debt after completion of the two-year commitment through competitive renewals.

Program awardees with student debt remaining at the completion of the award may apply for a competitive renewal provided they continue to meet NIH's eligibility requirements.

Application Cycle Deadlines and Notification

The submission window for new and renewal extramural loan repayment programs is September 1–November 18.

Tools and Training

  • Application Guide: Prepare to complete a Loan Repayment Program application by getting started with this guide. Prepare early to help avoid being rushed as the deadline approaches.
  • Application Process Interactive Roadmap: Learn more about the Loan Repayment Programs, verify your eligibility, and apply.
  • Tips for Writing a Competitive Application: Get suggestions and important information about how to create an application that presents your work and dedication to research.
  • Repayment Estimator: Use this tool to approximate the student loan repayment benefits you may receive as a participant.
  • Frequently Asked Questions: Find answers to frequently asked questions about program information, eligibility requirements, service obligations, and more.

Resources

  • Ambassador Network: Connect with current and past recipients who can share their experiences and offer application advice.
  • Application Review Process: Find information about the review process, including the financial review and submission of loan documentation.
  • Data and Reports: Explore aggregated data about the applications received and awards funded by the Loan Repayment Programs. Progress and feature reports about the programs are also available.

Feedback

  • Priority score and reviewer comments for loan repayment applications are not provided to applicants. If a Loan Repayment Program application is not awarded, the applicant may submit a new application in a subsequent year. Official summary statements are not generated and thus are not available to the applicants. Applicants are not expected to indicate how their application differs from any earlier applications submitted.
  • Unsuccessful applicants may contact us at NIMHLRP@mail.nih.gov for any available feedback.

Contacts

  • For questions regarding NIMH eligibility requirements or for help determining if your research fits within the NIMH mission, please contact the NIMH Loan Repayment Program coordinator at NIMHLRP@mail.nih.gov.
  • For questions regarding financial and qualifying educational loan debt, please contact lrp@nih.gov.