Since high school, Victoria Nichols, DO, knew she wanted a career that would allow her to do more for others. This passion for serving led her to pursue her master's in public health. She enrolled in the Public Health Program at the University of Minnesota where, through her studies and research, she learned about the many gaps in access to health care throughout the country.
"So many people in the United States lack access to primary health care," said Doctor Nichols. "I am honored to serve my country and do my part to help bridge that gap."
With a lifelong interest in primary care, Doctor Nichols applied for medical school where she hoped that pairing her public health background with medical practice would enable her to help others in a greater way.
She attended Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Missouri where she obtained her doctorate of osteopathic medicine degree, and then completed her residency in family medicine at St. Joseph Mercy Health System.
Perseverance Leads to Opportunity
While in medical school, Doctor Nichols was introduced to the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), a federal government program administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). The NHSC helps place primary care providers in areas of the United States with limited access to care, and provides its members with scholarships and loan repayments for their education.
Doctor Nichols applied for a highly-competitive NHSC scholarship, but did not receive an award. Determined to practice in an underserved area and attracted to the financial benefits of the NHSC, Doctor Nichols then applied to the Students to Service Loan Repayment Program, which repays loans for medical and dental students in their final year of school, who commit to practicing in areas of the country that have too few health care professionals to serve the people who live there.
Students who are accepted into the program can receive up to $120,000 to pay back qualifying loans in return for their service commitment -- three years of full-time or six years of part-time clinical practice -- which begins upon completion of residency.
To be eligible, one must be enrolled as a full-time student in the final year of medical or dental school; be attending a fully accredited school in an eligible degree program; and be planning to pursue primary care.
Doctor Nichols said she was thrilled to receive an award, and she worked with NHSC representatives to secure a primary care position at Packard Health in Ann Arbor, MI. She is one of 375 NHSC clinicians currently providing care to the underserved in Michigan, and one of 9,600 serving nationwide.
At Packard Health, Doctor Nichols practices family medicine. She also provides pre-natal care through a partnership program with the University of Michigan. This program allows Doctor Nichols to provide care and build relationships with pregnant women who, after childbirth, often return to Doctor Nichols for continued care for themselves and or their children. She is also a member of the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians, the American Public Health Association, and the Christian Medical and Dental Associations.
Building a Meaningful Career in Primary Care
"I knew I wanted to practice family medicine where I'd have the opportunity to build long-term relationships with my patients, and felt so lucky that the Students to Service program was able to work with me to find such a perfect fit," said Doctor Nichols. Family medicine also allows her to serve a very diverse patient population in the Ann Arbor area. "I have a world map in my office, and I color in countries when I meet different patients from around the world. So far I've colored in nearly 30 countries."
While she admits that it can be challenging to work in an underserved area, she believes the experience has been so rewarding that she plans to continue serving at Packard Health even after completing her service commitment. When asked what advice she would have for others applying to NHSC programs, she said, "If you want to help people and serve the greater good, joining the NHSC is a great option!"
The application cycle for the NHSC Students to Service Loan Repayment Program opens on August 16. To learn more about the program and how to apply, visit www.nhsc.hrsa.gov.