Early career scientists: Here’s how to make the NIH Loan Repayment Programs work for you

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While the overall success rate of all NIH LRP applicants from 2006-2017 is an impressive ~50% across all NIH ICs, the success rate of CTSA Program KL2 Scholar applicants is even more notable: nearly 79% – a stat that may surprise many early career researchers.

Several challenges confront individuals who would like to pursue a research career, one of which being the escalating costs of advanced education and training in medicine and clinical specialties. This financial burden often leads scientists to abandon research careers for higher-paying private industry or private practice positions.

To counteract that financial pressure, Congress established the NIH Loan Repayment Programs (LRPs). By repaying up to $35,000 annually of a researcher's qualified educational debt in return for a commitment to engage in NIH mission-relevant research, the LRPs aim to help recruit and retain highly qualified health professionals into biomedical or biobehavioral research careers.

The programs are funded in part by many of the NIH’s Institutes and Centers (ICs), including NCATS. From FY17 to FY18, NCATS’ investment in the programs increased to over $2.5 million, showing a continued commitment to workforce development, particularly for early career scientists.

And while the overall success rate of all NIH LRP applicants from 2006-2017 is an impressive ~50% across all NIH ICs, the success rate of CTSA Program KL2 Scholar applicants is even more notable: nearly 79% – a stat that may surprise many of these researchers (for more data see the LRP Dashboard).

“While there seems to be a solid awareness of the existence of the LRPs, I worry that many of our researchers believe it’s extremely difficult to actually receive funding,” said Susan Smyth, senior associate director for the University of Kentucky Center for Clinical and Translational Science. “Hopefully we can address that misconception and get even more KL2 and TL1 Scholars to apply.”

One of the ways CTSA Program hubs are trying to do just that is by hosting interactive workshops and creating toolkits related to the LRPs. Thomas Pearson of the University of Florida Clinical and Translational Science Institute (UF CTSI) recently held a Loan Repayment Grant Writing Workshop to facilitate a discussion about writing competitive LRP applications and renewals.

“In addition to making researchers aware of this great opportunity, we want to help them identify the resources available to them that can help with tackling the application and ensuring success,” said Pearson, director of Translational Workforce Development at UF CTSI. “During the Workshop, we walk through our LRP Toolkit, which is complete with past applications, sample letters of reference, related announcements and applicable contact information, among other resources.”

UF CTSI has held two Workshops to date, convened in late summer and early September to coincide with the LRP window for applications. Pearson encourages other hubs to take a similar approach in highlighting and explaining the LRPs, noting that the number of submitted applications tripled following their 2017 Workshop, and approved applications nearly quadrupled. They’re happy to offer the entire Workshop presentation and recording to other CTSA Program hubs upon request.

Currently, the extramural LRPs (for those not employed by NIH) fund approximately 1,300 researchers every year through a total of five research programs: Clinical, Pediatric, Contraception and Infertility, Health Disparities and Clinical Research for Individuals from Disadvantaged Backgrounds. NCATS’ CTSA Program directly participates in two of these programs (Clinical and Pediatric). When KL2 Scholars apply to a specific LRP, their application is assigned for review by a categorical NIH IC aligned with their research topic. On average, only ~7% of KL2 applicants are assigned to NCATS, with the majority of applications directed to categorical NIH ICs better aligned with the scholar’s research focus or type of LRP.

The next LRP application period will open on September 1, 2019 and close on November 15. If you’re interested in learning more about the programs, please visit the LRP website (see the Apply page and Tips for Writing a Competitive LRP Application).     

 


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