For most physicians, student loans are a reality of being able to practice medicine. That’s no different for Dr. Eric Simons, an obstetrician, who is the first physician to complete the Oklahoma Medical Loan Repayment Program partnership with the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET).
Simons has completed a full four years of the program and received the maximum payment amount. A former active-duty Air Force officer, Simons established his practice in Stilwell to serve residents of Adair County. As the only OB/GYN in the area, Simons cares for families who would otherwise have to drive miles away for prenatal care or delivery.
“I appreciate and enjoy the community I serve,” said Simons. “Getting to work with this population absolutely would not have been possible if it weren’t for the Oklahoma Medical Loan Repayment Program.”
The Oklahoma Medical Loan Repayment program launched in 2012 through a partnership with the Physician Manpower Training Commission and TSET. The partnership requires primary care physicians to establish a practice in a rural or medically underserved area of the state. TSET grant funds are used as the state match so the program can work with the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to receive federal health care dollars.
Doctors participating in the program must see SoonerCare (Medicaid) patients and refer tobacco users to the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline for free cessation coaching. Physicians who participate in the program are eligible for student loan repayments that last up to four years and can reach a total of $160,000, as long as the physician maintains his or her practice in a rural community.
“This program creates a partnership in rural and underserved areas that helps to increase access to health care and address Oklahoma’s shortage of doctors,” said TSET executive director John Woods. “Increasing access to primary care and preventative services will help Oklahomans make healthy choices and live longer, healthier lives.”
According to a recent analysis by PMTC, each primary care physician in rural Oklahoma will generate an estimated 23 full-time jobs, and these jobs will generate about $1.5 million of economic impact annually. For the 2017 Fiscal Year, 32 physicians participated in the loan repayment program.
“Bringing in primary care physicians to these areas has an immediate impact,” said Charlotte Jiles, deputy executive director of PMTC. “It also makes the city more attractive to physicians looking to establish a full time primary care physician practice.”
To date, more than 100,000 patient visits have been conducted by physicians participating in the program. In addition, more than 3,250 patients have been referred to the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline.
To learn more about the program and its impacts, visit tset.ok.gov.