Paying Back Nursing School Student Loans by Working and VolunteeringNursing school can be exhausting. There’s the hazing and abuse from teachers and staff, along with the massive amount of memorization that needs to be done in order to stay on top of your studies.

Add to that the stress of finances – as most full-time students studying nursing may find it hard to also work while attending school – and you have a perfect storm for a massive amount of accumulated debt after graduation.

According to the International Business Times, the average student graduating this year owes over $37,000 in student debt – even higher for advanced and specialized degrees. Yet that’s only a small piece of the nearly $1.4 trillion total student debt in the United States alone.

However, as sobering these statistics may be, there are ways that you can work to get your student loans paid off in record time.

High-Needs Community Health-Care

Registered nurses working at facilities in Health Professional Shortage Areas, also known as HPSAs, can apply for a program that will pay off 60 percent of their total student debt after only two years of service at the facility. There’s also an optional third year commitment where an additional 25 percent of the total beginning debt is again wiped clean.

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) designate these facilities as having shortages in primary care, dental, or mental health providers. They may be geographic (for example limited to a specific county or service area), population-based (for example low income or Medicaid eligible patients), or named specific facilities (like a federally qualified health center).  The HRSA website states that “Medically Underserved Areas/Populations [are known to have] too few primary care providers, high infant mortality, high poverty, or a high elderly population.”

These facilities can include everything from community clinics to hospice care support settings, and provide a wide range of opportunities across the nation for qualified nursing professionals in all areas of expertise. Working at these facilities is one way to pay down student debt while serving high needs communities.

Philanthropic Volunteering Websites

There are relatively new platforms that connect volunteers with generous philanthropists in an effort to both pay down student debt and encourage volunteering in needy communities.

Websites like SponsorChange and ZeroBound can connect volunteers with non-profit organizations in need of assistance. Projects are agreed to in advance and can take anywhere from 40-50 hours of work over several months to complete.

At the end of the project, the volunteers are paid for their efforts – but the money isn’t given as cash. Instead, the donation – given by third party donors - is applied towards the graduate’s student loans directly. This pays down their balance owed and takes some of the stress off of an already harrowing debt-situation.

To check for eligible virtual projects, and those local to your area, visit the respective websites to search opportunities.

It’s also possible to craft your own debt-repayment work and volunteer opportunities. Check sites like Idealist.org often for jobs, internships, and other opportunities. If you see that a local non-profit is looking for full or part-time help, and has the budget to pay, you may consider working in the non-profit sector to help pay down your student loans.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Additionally, the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program is one of many Student Loan Forgiveness programs available to nursing school graduates.

The PSLF program can completely forgive certain types of loans after 120 months of qualifying loan repayments and dedicated work in eligible facilities. While this is definitely more of a long-term solution, and only applicable to very specific types of loans, for those entering a career that they feel confident in and excel at, this is a great carrot chase for as a reward for 10 years of dedicated service.

Most of your questions about the PSLF can be answered on the Federal Student Aid website.

Nursing professionals most often get into the field because they have a caring and serving nature. It can be difficult to hold onto that passion at times in an overly regimented and time-crunched environment. However, working in a facility where the patients are most in-need can be a wonderful way to learn fast and hard - making the largest impact in the shortest amount of time.