Medical students from low-income backgrounds are graduating over £13,000 more in debt than their better off peers, says a new report from the BMA.
The results from the survey also indicate that the number of students from the lowest income brackets in medical school has declined in the past 12 months.
These worrying findings are revealed in the BMA’s Medical Student Finance Survey which surveyed more than 2,800 medical students and raises concerns about the government’s plans to widen access to medicine from low-income groups.
Key conclusions from the report include:
Average medical student debt on graduation has risen from £23,909 to £24,092.
However, those from lower income brackets are graduating with a projected debt of £37,588, up from £26,324 in the past 12 months.
Graduate students, who study a first degree before studying medicine, had higher average debt of £30,748.
Almost all medical students in their final year (94 per cent) reported some form of debt from credit cards, overdrafts, student loans or other sources.
Students from low-income and graduate backgrounds are more likely to rely on higher levels of commercial borrowing, such as credit cards and student bank loans.
The number of medical students from low-income backgrounds studying in medical schools has dropped from 14 per cent to 11 per cent in the past year.
Almost half (44 per cent) of medical students are relying on financial assistance from relatives and friends, averaging £3,702 a year.
Speaking about the report, Elly Pilavachi, Co-Chair of the BMA’s Medical Student Committee and a medical student from Brighton, said: ‘Medical students are now facing extremely high levels of graduation debt.
‘Many are clearly heavily dependent on financial support from their families and friends to get through the intensive, five- to six-year medical course.
‘However, the picture for those from low-income backgrounds is particularly alarming with their debt levels a staggering £13,000 higher than those from higher income brackets.
‘Our evidence shows they are having to borrow more and are under more financial pressure than their peers.
‘It is hardly surprising that there has been a noticeable and worrying drop in the number of students coming from less-well-off backgrounds.
‘With the government intent on allowing universities to charge up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees from 2012 the picture for all medical students looks bleak.
‘Ministers are running the risk of restricting access to medicine to those with the ability to pay rather than the talent to succeed.
‘As someone from a modest background who is struggling under the current fee regime I would have thought twice about going to medical school if I had to cope with the predicted £70,000-worth of debt that many medical students could face under the new fee regime from next year.’
Marion Matheson, Co-Chair of the BMA Medical Student’s Committee and a graduate medical student from Bristol, said: ‘Our research shows that graduate students, like myself, are incurring higher levels of debt, on average £6,000 more than other students.
‘This is deeply concerning as this important group make up a significant part of the medical school population and are more likely to come from low-income backgrounds.
‘Many bring valuable experience and skills to the medical profession that benefit patients, the NHS, clinical research and other disciplines.
‘The BMA is continuing to press the government to outline a comprehensive widening access strategy that does more to help address the financial plight of medical students, especially those from low-income and graduate backgrounds who are under significant financial pressure.
Medical degrees take five to six years to complete, longer than most undergraduate courses which usually take three years.
In addition, in most degrees the academic year is 30 weeks long, but for a medical degree it can be up to 45 weeks.
This extra-long academic year means more debt is accumulated and there is less chance for medical students to work in their holidays.
Medical courses also tend to have expensive course equipment and materials.
The estimate, based on calculations from the BMA’s Health Policy and Economic Research Unit, which projects that debt from student loans would amount to £70,000, only includes debts incurred from student loans and does not take into account overdrafts, credit cards and professional loans which many students depend on for additional support.