Elon students win National Health Service Corps scholarships

A federal program of the Health Resources and Services Administration will provide full tuition and a stipend to four Elon University graduate students planning to work in medically underserved regions across the United States.

Four Elon University graduate students studying to be physician assistants have each won full scholarships from a federal program that supports medical professionals who desire to work in the nation’s most underserved rural and urban communities.

Jennifer Beard, Marah Holz, Brittany Pjetraj and Keely Reichel are among 193 recipients of the 2014-15 National Health Service Corps Scholarship. Administered by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, the National Health Service Corps supports “qualified health care providers dedicated to working in areas with limited access to health care.”

They are the first students in Elon University’s Physician Assistant Studies program to receive the highly selective award. The Health Resources and Services Administration received about 1,800 applications for its most recent round of scholarships.

The National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program provides tuition, fees, other educational costs, and a monthly living stipend for students pursuing training to become a primary care provider in an NHSC-eligible discipline. Recipients must be a citizen of the United States or a U.S. national and enrolled in an accredited medical, dental, nurse practitioner, certified nurse midwife or physician assistant training program.

Scholars provide one year of service after graduation for each school year of financial support received, with a minimum two-year service commitment. They practice in areas of the country that have too few health care professionals to serve people who live there, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration.

The corps currently consists of nearly 8,900 primary care medical, dental, and mental and behavioral health professionals caring for 9.3 million people at more than 5,100 sites in urban, rural and frontier areas across the nation.

The Elon University students’ responses to the awards are as follows, with hometown and undergraduate alma maters listed in parentheses:

Jennifer Beard (Durham, N.C. / North Carolina State University & N.C. Central University)

“Many of my choices in life have been influenced by my enthusiasm to serve underserved populations and communities. I chose to attend Elon University’s physician assistant program because of its mission to support the local underserved community by fundraising and volunteering for the Open Door Clinic, joining local nonprofits to provide meals for those in need, and sponsoring Girl Scout camps for disadvantaged youth to learn about healthy lifestyles. I look forward to providing primary health care to underserved communities throughout my career as I believe it will bring more comprehensive medical treatment to areas and people who might never see a specialist but who will always have access to primary care attention.”

Marah Holz (Eau Claire, Wisc. / Berea College )

“I once heard a quote from a wise man named Oscar Romero. ‘We can not do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something and to do it well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, and an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.’ This quote embodies the reason I chose to enter the NHSC. My responsibility as a PA is not to solve all the world’s problems, but I do have a responsibility, and a privilege, to do something and do it well.”

Brittany Pjetraj (Chapin, S.C. / University of South Carolina)

“Providing care to underserved communities has always been one of my lifelong dreams. I initially envisioned this dream would be accomplished abroad, meeting medical needs of the poor and sick during short-term mission trips. However, as I have gotten older and as I have gained experience working, shadowing and volunteering in multiple healthcare facilities, I have realized the immense medical needs that remain unmet in my own country. My personal goal as a student studying medicine in the United States is to be a part of the solution. I can think of no better way to accomplish this goal than to join forces with the National Health Service Corps by working to meet the medical needs of underserved people at home.”

Keely Reichel (Aiken, S.C. / Clemson University)

“I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity provided to me by Elon University and the National Health Service Corps to combine my interest in working with underserved populations and also providing excellent health care by serving as a physician assistant. I believe my life experiences and the education I am receiving will prepare me to recognize the reality of the obstacles in patients’ lives. I am determined to help find and create ways to provide excellent care and achieve a high standard of health for these individuals.”