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Indian Health Service

Kandace Kichler, MD
Celeste Hollands, MD, FACS

The Indian Health Service (IHS) is a part of the US Department of Health and Human Services that serves nearly two million American Indians and Alaska Natives through a network of 49 hospitals and more than 230 clinics throughout 35 states. American Indians and Alaska Natives suffer from many illnesses and diseases at rates several times higher than the overall US population. The mission of the IHS is “to raise the physical, mental, social and spiritual health of American Indians and Alaska Natives to the highest level”.1The IHS represents itself as ideal for those who find “professional fulfillment, quality of life, and service to an in-need community are important to your career plans.”

Three career paths are offered: the USPHS Commissioned Corps, the federal Civil Service and direct Tribal hire. The commissioned Corps is one of the seven uniformed series of the US government, but is not a military service. Benefits provided are similar to the military and a minimum two-year commitment to the IHS is required. The Civil Service path offers career flexibility, federal employee benefits, and does not require a multiyear commitment. These two paths allow the surgeon the opportunity to move around the country without the limitations of licensing requirement in multiple states. The third path is employment directly with one of more than 560 federally recognized Tribes (over 560 in 35 states). Pay and benefits vary since they are negotiated directly with the Tribe and are comparable to those offered by federal personnel systems. All three paths include malpractice coverage, office expenses and eligibility to apply for the IHS Loan Repayment Program (IHS LRP), which can be applied to the repayment of health profession education expenses. IHS LRP recipients must agree to work for two continuous years (from the date the award is made) in a full-time clinical practice in your profession at an IHS facility, or in an approved Indian health program.