The push for healthcare reform and cost effective care has made both the nurse practitioner (NP) and physician assistant (PA) professions highly desirable. Money magazine recently ranked the PA profession number two on its annual “Best Jobs in America” list, with positions expected to grow almost 40 percent in the next 10 years.

So now that you have decided that this is the career for you, the best way to start looking for financial aid and grant opportunities is by visiting the websites of specific programs that you are considering applying for. Each NP/PA program typically offers a variety of financial aid opportunities for applicants. Additionally, there are other resources especially tailored to assist prospective nurse practitioner (NP) and physician assistant (PA) students.

Applying to programs

In the U.S. there are 154 accredited PA programs and more than 600 nursing schools. PA programs are offered at medical schools, hospitals, colleges and universities, and a number of universities have advanced practice nursing programs. You can find more information at the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) websites.

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The PAEA website features the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants, a one-stop shop that can help you enrol in 125 different accredited PA programs. This tool provides users with application requirements and deadlines for each program. Applicants can apply to all programs by reviewing the requirements of each program’s at their individual website and following the instructions.

Anita Duhl Glicken, MSW, the associate dean for physician assistant studies and director of the physician assistant program at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver, advises prospective PA students to apply to several programs.

Financial aid opportunities

 “We have a lot of endowments that contribute specifically for student scholarships, because we recognize that graduate education is expensive, and many students are family breadwinners, working full- or part-time, and paying for their own graduate education out of pocket,” Kathy Magilvy, RN, PhD, FAAN, FWAN, professor and associate dean for academic programs at the University of Colorado College of Nursing in Denver, told Clinical Advisor.

To receive the most generous financial aid, both prospective PA and NP students may want to consider working in underserved areas. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has established the National Health Services Corps to improve health care in these areas by offering funding for NPs and PAs who commit to providing services in such areas.

“In many cases our NPs and certified nurse midwives do work with those populations, because we have a strong sense of social justice, serving the underserved. It’s a moral commitment,” says Magilvy.

Additionally, Colorado University’s PA program has offered a designated rural track since 1993. This allows students who want to pursue work in a rural practice to train in rural areas where there are opportunities for qualifying positions after graduation.

Health care reform

The enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has created a number of funding opportunities aimed at ensuring more efficient and higher quality primary care. To meet this need, HRSA offers a range of financial aid opportunities for NP and PA students. For more information, check the HRSA website.

HRSA has also created the Nurse Faculty Loan Program ( to meet future nursing school faculty needs that it projects contribute to the nationwide nursing shortage. The Nurse Faculty Loan Program forgives 85% of the loan for students who commit to taking education courses and then working as nurse educators.

Susan Schooleman is a freelance medical writer living in the greater Denver area.