The U-I Health Alliance today announced a one-million-dollar commitment over several years to help fund the Iowa Rural Physician Loan Repayment Program . The program was created  by the Iowa Legislature in 2012 to help pay the loans of new doctors who agree to practice in rural areas of the state. Knoxville physician,  Brent Hoehns, the incoming president of the Iowa Academy of Family Physicians, was at the announcement. “It is an exciting day for me, I grew up in rural Iowa, I’ve raised a family in rural Iowa. I’ve been practicing in rural Iowa may entire career so I see the challenges in recruiting primary care physicians to rural Iowa and keeping them there,” Hoehns says.

The program is for communities located more than 20 miles from a city with a population of 50,000, and those communities must make a $20,000 contribution to the rural Iowa primary care trust fund for each physician who comes there and takes part in the loan repayment program. “Part of the agreement is that they will attend a residency program in the state of Iowa, and then serve in the commitment area for a least five years,”Hoehns says.

Hoehns hopes the legislature will add more funding to the program in the next session. “Targeting family physicians, psychiatrists, internal medicine physicians, pediatricians and general surgeons — Iowa has now put in place an innovative physician supply line to the state’s most undeserved areas,” Hoehns says. “We’ve removed one of the most significant barriers to physicians choosing to practice primary care and strengthened the state’s primary care network.”

Governor Terry Branstad says this program is part of the state’s goal to become the healthiest state in the nation. “Having quality family physicians all over the state of Iowa — especially in these rural areas — is going to be extremely important to our ability to achieve that goal,” Branstad says.

The University of Iowa says medical students have an average debt of $161,000 once they graduate, and Branstad says that’s where the loan repayment program levels the field. “The Rural Physician Loan Repayment Program will begin to remove one of the most significant barriers to physicians choosing to practice primary care. And that is the tremendous financial burden and choosing a rural area where your income may not be quite as great,” Branstad says.

Up to 20 medical students may enroll in the program every year. The U-I Health Alliance  includes over 50 Iowa hospitals, the Mercy Health Network, Genesis Health System, the University of Iowa and more than 160 clinics across the state.