Canada Student Loan Forgiveness (Rural and Remote Communities)

The Government of Canada offers student loan forgiveness to eligible family doctors, residents in family medicine, nurse practitioners, and nurses who work in underserved rural or remote communities. Introduced in 2013, the Canada Student Loan forgiveness program is aimed at increasing health care services in designated rural and remote regions across Canada, while enabling health professionals to reduce amounts owing on their outstanding Canada Student Loans balances (the federal portion of a government student loan).

To support greater access to oral health care in underserved rural and remote communities across the country, CDHA had advocated extensively over the years for the inclusion of dental hygienists in the list of professionals eligible for Canada Student Loan forgiveness. CDHA believes that expanding the eligibility of loan forgiveness to dental hygienists would be effective in incentivizing members of the profession to choose to return or relocate to a rural or remote community towards the delivery of primary health care to communities in need.

ADVOCACY WIN, April 16, 2024 — The 2024 federal budget, Budget 2024: Fairness for Every Generation, announced the expansion of the Canada Student Loan Forgiveness program to dental hygienists and other professions to encourage younger generations to relocate to rural and remote communities, where homes are often cheaper than in bigger cities, and where professionals in health care and social services are needed. Specifically, the budget announced (Chapter 2, pages 122-123)

  • intent to introduce amendments to the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act and the Canada Student Loans Act to permanently expand the reach of the Canada Student Loan Forgiveness Program to more health care and social services professionals working in rural and remote communities (9 professions including dental hygienists).
  • costing estimated to be $253.8 million over four years, starting in 2025-26, and $84.3 million ongoing.

CDHA welcomes news that student loan forgiveness will be expanded to dental hygienists. It is a great step forward in recognizing the role of dental hygienists in the health care system and the need for improving access to oral health care in rural and remote communities.

With more to be done to bring this announcement forward, CDHA looks forward to working with the federal government on any measures that can benefit dental hygiene graduates and encourage youth to pursue dental hygiene as a career. With this new announcement, dental hygienists who work in underserved rural or remote communities will be eligible to have the federal portion of their student loan forgiven.

Key Messages

  • With more than 6 million Canadians living in rural areas, CDHA understands that access to extended health care services in rural and remote communities remains an ongoing challenge for many Canadians. Populations living in small, northern, and geographically isolated communities do not have equitable access to oral health care as those living in urban centres may have. Geographic factors and health workforce constraints, perpetuate these issues, adding to access challenges.
  • For people living in underserved rural and remote communities across Canada, expanding the eligibility of Canada Student Loan forgiveness to include dental hygienists has the potential to increase access to more primary care services (distinct from medicine and nursing).
  • Attracting dental hygienists to rural and remote communities means more access to essential prevention services in these parts of the country, including in areas typically underserved by other dental professionals, and in various accessible settings such as schools, mobile clinics, public health clinics, community centres, private homes, and independently owned dental hygiene clinics.
  • For loan forgiveness to have incentivizing impacts and long-term effectiveness, amounts should consider average post-secondary costs and student loan levels, as well as salary expectations and cost of living considerations.
  • While loan forgiveness can be a useful means of encouraging health professionals to work in underserved communities, it is only one aspect of broader provincial, territorial, federal, and stakeholder efforts needed to address health workforce shortages in rural and remote communities.
  • CDHA recognizes that a variety of factors can influence a health professional’s decision on where to live, such as workplace environment, appropriate experience, access to professional networks, career progression opportunities, work-life balance, transportation options, childcare services/education availability, housing options, labour market opportunities for other family members, personal connections to a community, accessibility of community and leisure activities, and more.

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