New medical students are likely to graduate with debts of £37,000 warns a new British Medical Association (BMA) report published today.
The BMA says this is hugely damaging to future government efforts to encourage students from lower socio-economic groups into the profession.
The report, from the BMA’s Medical Students Committee, paints a stark picture of huge debts for any student wanting to become a doctor.
It says the introduction of variable top up fees is already having an effect on student debt, and means when new entrants graduate their average level of debt will be nearly double the current £20,000.
It also warns that if the government decides to lift the cap on university tuition fees in 2010, which many fear it will do, the effect on medicine would be ‘catastrophic’ with average medical graduate debt almost tripling to over £57,000.
Students in London, where the cost of living is higher, would be worst hit with average debts of £67,000.
The BMA believes doubling the amount of medical graduate debt would seriously affect the number of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds choosing medicine as a career.
Research shows that two thirds of students who chose not to go to university said avoiding debt was a major factor in their decision.
And while bursaries can ease the pressure, the current system is very confusing and leaves prospective students unable to find out how much financial support they might get.
Ian Noble, Chairman of the BMA’s Medical Student Committee, said: ‘We think it is best for patients and the NHS if doctors represent the society they serve.
‘But it’s very likely that many able sixth form students, who want to become doctors, will be put off by the idea of such large debts when they graduate.
‘£40,000 or even £60,000 of debt is a huge amount to ask someone that young to take on, particularly because medicine is a less certain career than it used to be.
‘Becoming a doctor must not become the preserve of the wealthy, yet if something isn’t done, that is the way it could go.’
Medical student debt is worse than average student debt because degrees run for a minimum of five years.
Term times are longer, which reduces the opportunity for part time working, and there are also additional expenses for equipment or travel to placements.
The BMA report predicts a number of scenarios of debt for current medical students and shows repayments will be highest at the start of a junior doctor’s career when they can least afford it.
Tom Foley, Chairman of the Medical Students Finance Subcommittee, said: ‘We’re worried that medical students are being unfairly penalised and more importantly, that this will put off prospective students from even applying to medicine.
‘There has to be an independent review looking into the specific issues surrounding medical student finance.’