Headlines: November 10th, 2006

CONCERNS OVER DEBT LEVELS FOR STUDENT DOCTORS

 

Doctors’ leaders are calling for bursaries from the NHS to be made more widely available to medical students after a new study showed that on average medical students owe more than 21,000 pounds by the time they complete their studies. Figures in the BMA’s annual medical student finance survey show those graduating this year owe an average more than the basic annual salary they will receive in their first jobs as a junior doctors.

The latest findings are based on questionnaires completed by almost 2,000 medical students between May and September this year. Almost all of them – 92 per cent – had a student loan, and 60 per cent had an overdraft. Almost a fifth had a bank loan and two thirds owed about a thousand pounds on credit cards. One student reported owing more than 53,000 pounds and more than a hundred owed over 30,000 pounds.

The BMA says the high debt levels are due to the fact that medical studies last two or three years longer than most other courses and medical students have fewer opportunities to work part-time than their contemporaries. In addition, they face extra expenses for travel to hospitals and in buying equipment.

The Association also fears that debt levels are likely to get much worse, with the introduction this year of the top-up fee system, which allows universities to charge students up to 3,000 per year. Those studying medicine as a second degree have to pay the new fees upfront each year. The BMA wants NHS bursaries, which are paid to some final year students, to be made more widely available. It is also calling for students to have easier access to hardship funds and other financial support, and it wants the top-up fee system to be changed so graduate students can pay their fees at the end of their courses. The BMA points to the high cost of studying medicine as a reason for the social imbalance among medical students. Only 13 per cent of those surveyed came from a family where the main source of income was a ‘blue collar’ job.

Emily Rigby, chair of the BMA’s Medical Students Committee, said: “This level of debt is deeply worrying for current students, and the future of the medical profession as a whole. Not only does it put further pressure on those already coping with a demanding course, but it may also deter potential students, particularly those from low income backgrounds and graduates, from considering medicine as a career.”