UK HealthCare

Center of Excellence in Rural Health helps provide $1.3 million in 1st year of health care worker loan relief program

UK CERH Rural Project Manager Sierra Williams and UK CERH Director Fran Feltner. Photo by Beth Bowling.
UK CERH Rural Project Manager Sierra Williams and UK CERH Director Fran Feltner. Photo by Beth Bowling.

HAZARD, Ky. (Jan. 18, 2024)  In just over a year, the University of Kentucky Center of Excellence in Rural Health (UK CERH) has helped provide more than $1.3 million in loan relief for health care workers. CERH is currently accepting new applications for the Healthcare Worker Loan Relief Program of the Commonwealth through the end of January. 

The loan relief program, which is administered by the UK CERH in Hazard, was established during the 2022 convening of the Kentucky General Assembly as HB 573. Sponsored by Representative Kimberly Moser, the bill aims to increase the recruitment and retention of health care professionals to practice in underserved areas of Kentucky. 

“We are grateful to Representative Kimberly Moser and others for championing for this much-needed funding and it is already making a positive impact in underserved communities across the state,” said Fran Feltner, D.N.P., director of the UK CERH.  “In just a little more than one year, we have been able to award more than $1 million dollars in loan relief to more than 20 health professionals across 13 communities in Kentucky,” Feltner added.

The Healthcare Worker Loan Relief Program of the Commonwealth was designed to complement the existing federally funded state loan repayment program by filling in gaps and expanding eligibility to additional medical specialists including ophthalmologists, optometrists and audiologists, according to Feltner.  

The program is geared toward trained and licensed professionals who provide direct patient care in one of the program’s eligible disciplines and specialties, including physicians, optometrists, ophthalmologists, audiologists, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives, registered nurses, dentists, registered dental hygienists, licensed clinical social workers, licensed professional clinical counselors, health service psychologists, marriage and family therapists, psychiatric nurse specialists, alcohol and substance use disorder counselors and pharmacists. Additional specialties will be considered.

Applicants selected to participate could be awarded up to $100,000 depending upon provider type, level of loan indebtedness and sponsor commitment. Awardees are required to work 24-40 hours a week, up to 4,160 hours over a two- to three-year period. Participants receive tax-free student loan repayment in exchange for their service commitment.

Additional requirements include serving in an officially designated health professions shortage area and working at an eligible clinical site that serves as a sponsor. Examples of eligible sites include federally qualified health centers, rural health clinics, community mental health agencies, health department clinics, prisons, private practices and critical access hospitals.

The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. EST, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024. Apply or learn more about applicant eligibility, clinical site eligibility and program guidelines here, or contact Sierra Williams at or 606-439-3557.       

About the UK Center of Excellence in Rural Health: The University of Kentucky Center of Excellence in Rural Health was established by state legislation in 1990 to address health disparities in rural Kentucky and the unique challenges faced by our communities. The mission was and still is today to improve the health and wellbeing of rural Kentuckians. For more than three decades, the Center has partnered with communities, providers, students and individuals to provide health professions education, health policy research, health care service and community engagement toward reaching this mission.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.