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Career Tracks: A Stipend to Help You Earn While You Learn

Shaw, Gina

doi: 10.1097/01.NT.0000410297.16231.07


Want to attend more professional development conferences or pay down your debt? Many neurologists have these worries. The Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) pitched its solution — called the Earn While You Learn Stipend Program — at a Webinar during the AAN's first virtual career fair.

With some 164 hospitals, 111 freestanding surgery centers, and nine endoscopy centers in 20 states (and London), employing some 180,000 people, HCA is always looking for new talent, said Kay Gerth, vice president of training program outreach. So about seven years ago, the hospital behemoth created a program to encourage the best and brightest physicians to work in HCA communities after finishing their training.

Part of the goal, said Gerth, is to make the HCA family of hospitals recognizable to physicians-in-training at top programs.

To date, some 800 residents and fellows in primary care and selected medical specialties — including neurology — have received stipends since the program was initiated in 2005. The monthly stipend is provided for the duration of the individual's training; just how much you receive varies depending on how much longer you have to complete your education. “On average, people receive between $1,000 and $2,000 a month,” Gerth said. (And it's taxable.)

What's the catch? You have to serve on the active medical staff at an HCA-affiliated facility of your choice for two years upon the completion of your training. But, you can accept a recruitment or employment agreement from any employer — as long as they're in an area where there's an HCA-affiliated facility that needs neurologists on their staff.

“You can work anywhere HCA has a facility and a need for your service,” Gerth said. “We have neurology opportunities from coast to coast.” She noted that the HCA currently has a need for neurologists in Las Vegas, Nashville, Charleston and Myrtle Beach, Denver, Miami, Austin, and San Antonio.

Here's what you don't have to do: spend the money in any specific way; complete any extra duty or call, either during training or while in practice; live and work in one specific area or with one specific institution; be employed by an HCA hospital upon completing training.

The definition of “active” medical staff varies from hospital to hospital. “Some only have you go to a meeting once or twice a year,” said Gerth. “Others include a certain number of cases you have to perform.” Check with facilities you might be interested in and ask for specifics — but be sure to call the medical staff office, not human resources, and ask about full active staff privileges, not consulting, courtesy, or other lesser categories.

To be eligible, you must only be a full-time resident or fellow in neurology, able to get a recommendation from your program saying that you are in good standing and expected to graduate, and free of other contractual obligations when you finish the program.

“So if you've already signed up to serve at a hospital in a non-HCA area, you're not eligible,” Gerth said. “You must also have more than six months remaining in training, and you must pass a background check.”

The program screens applicants on a quarterly basis, said Gerth. The next deadline for applications is March 15. If you have your information into the committee before then, there's a good possibility that, if you're accepted — Gerth said most applicants are — you could have a check by direct deposit or in the mail by mid-April.

You can spend that money any way you want. For example, a child neurologist now at Vanderbilt wrote that it allowed him less moonlighting and more time with his family and friends. A neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins used the stipend to participate in courses and conferences without worrying about accumulating further debt.

The stipend doesn't require participants to be actually employed by HCA, Gerth stressed. “It's a separate contract from any other you will receive,” she said. “You'll be eligible for recruiting and employment agreements, and it shouldn't have any impact on any other contract you're offered. For example, if a sign-on bonus or other incentive is part of a package that's given to other new physicians, your package shouldn't be discounted because you're a stipend recipient.”

The stipend also permits doctors in the military reserves who have been called out to active duty to suspend the “repayment” portion of their contract until they return from duty. “The first time it happened we had to set a precedent, but I'm glad to say that we're able to accommodate that; we just have to redo your contract,” Gerth said.

If you are unable to secure a position and obtain active medical staff privileges in a HCA facility within 90 days after completion of your training, you owe the money received back immediately and in full. •

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This is the second in a series of reports from Career Week, sponsored by the AAN Career Center. The broadcast of this webinar is now available at the AAN Career Center online — — just look for the big “Career Webinars” button in the main “Job Seekers” menu. The first report, “The Ins and Outs of Immigration,” is featured in the Dec. 1 issue of Neurology Today, go to

© 2011 American Academy of Neurology