Attracting Health Care Professionals to North Dakota

Have you heard of the North Dakota State Loan Repayment Program?

The North Dakota State Loan Repayment Program (ND-SLRP) allows for health care facilities to recruit and retain employees by providing student loan repayment options to qualified health care professionals serving in Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA). ND-SLRP is federally funded and administered by the North Dakota Primary Care Office at the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH).

Dr. John Hagan is an internal medicine physician at the North Dakota State Penitentiary (NDSP) in Bismarck where he leads medical and psychiatric services for the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DOCR). He has utilized the ND-SLRP program to recruit and retain many medical, dental and psychiatric team members throughout the DOCR. The NDDoH team had an opportunity to visit with Dr. Hagan about how the ND-SLRP has benefited him and his team at the DOCR.

The North Dakota State Loan Repayment Program has been an indispensable tool for recruiting and retaining medical, dental and psychiatric professionals to our state and to our DOCR program. ND-SLRP has been essential to our success in building a team that is nationally renowned.

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-Dr. John Hagan, Internal Medicine Physician at the North Dakota State Penitentiary


Dr. Hagan has been with the DOCR for 17 years. He began his career as a construction electrician and later served in the United States Army. As a husband, father, veteran, and now as a physician, Hagan is dedicated to working with excellence and to the service of others.

Dr. Hagan always knew he wanted to serve people, and following a career in construction, he decided to return to school and pursue service through the profession of medicine. After medical school, he was able to receive student loan repayment through the National Service Corps, a federal program like the ND-SLRP award he utilizes to recruit NDSP workforce today.

When it came to thinking about what field of medicine Dr. Hagan wanted to practice, the answer seemed simple, he would pursue a career as a surgeon, as he was a hands-on man. Even though Dr. Hagan thought he wanted to work with his hands, as he always had, after completing his medical training, he decided to become an internal medicine physician. After completing his residency in the US Army and serving a total of five years, Hagan left the military and took a position as an HMO physician in Colorado. He soon found that type of practice wasn’t meant for him as he aspired for even more – to connect on a level where he could evaluate the social determinants of health in each of his patients’ lives.

He didn’t have an opportunity to connect with patients one-on-one as an HMO internist, and that is how he felt he could best treat his patients – that connection and ability to help each person achieve health is what he was longing for. That’s when his friend, who he met in the Army, told him he needed to come practice in North Dakota.

“I initially said I wouldn’t because I thought the Arctic Circle dipped down around Bismarck and went back up, but I went, and it was beautiful country,” said Dr. Hagan.

Not only did Dr. Hagan surprise himself by moving to North Dakota, but he also landed in a setting he did not expect – serving as North Dakota State Correctional Health Authority. What began with Dr. Hagan pitching in here and there to help at the DOCR eventually turned into a full-time position, where he finally felt he had found his calling. He felt drawn to serve this population, to help our neighbors who struggle with substance abuse. The work at DOCR is holistic and lays a foundation for a healthier future.

“Our take is that our residents are our neighbors, and they’re going to become our neighbors again,” said Dr. Hagen. “Ninety-eight percent of our folks are going to discharge from prison and go back into the communities in North Dakota. Our goal is to take a look and say what kind of neighbors do we want?”

For others who are considering a move to North Dakota, we asked Dr. Hagan what changed his mind – what benefits he found in moving here and what he would share with others who are considering a move to the state.

“I grew up on the East Coast, where it’s a very dense population, a little crowded and when it gets crowded, folks get a little colder,” said Dr. Hagan. “They don’t make eye contact and kind of put their elbows out a bit. I came out here being able to say ‘hi’ to people. This is a very kind outfit.”

He found North Dakota to be friendly and warm in the ways that mattered most. From headlines in the local paper highlighting a moose walking around Bismarck to feeling safe enough to have not replaced a broken lock on his front door for a decade, Dr. Hagan felt a sense of community and safety in North Dakota that is unmatched. Besides the state’s family-like and family-friendly atmosphere, North Dakota also has low housing costs, quality education and low crime rates.

For Dr. Hagan, the move to North Dakota has been a positive one, and he would encourage other medical providers to explore the opportunities available in the state. Now, as an administrator, Hagan uses the ND-SLRP program to recruit and retain employees.

“I am grateful for my Army friend who encouraged me to come to North Dakota,” said Dr. Hagan. “I have come to love this state, and I am grateful for the opportunity to serve and make a difference here. North Dakota has been a wonderful place for me to live, to raise a family and to practice the type of medicine that makes me happiest.”


About ND-SLRP

ND-SLRP is a resource that has proven beneficial to both employers and employees alike. ND-SLRP is a student loan repayment opportunity that allows for health care facilities to recruit and retain employees by providing loan repayment options to qualified health care professionals serving in Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA).

ND-SLRP is federally funded and administered by the North Dakota Primary Care Office (PCO) at the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH).

The mission of the PCO is to improve primary care service delivery and workforce availability. This mission is accomplished by facilitating the coordinating activities related to improving access and delivery of primary care services and the recruitment and retention of critical health care providers. The NDDoH subcontracts with the University of North Dakota Center for Rural Health to provide services for workforce development and shortage designation activities.

If you or someone you know is pursuing a career in health care, check out the various loan repayment programs on the North Dakota Primary Care Office website.

Read more about the North Dakota State Loan Repayment Program at
health.nd.gov/nd-communities/primary-care-office

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