Average level of debt among final year medical students passes £21,000

The average final year medical student owes more than £21,000, according to a survey by the British Medical Association (BMA) published today.

Results from the BMA’s Annual Medical Student Finance survey show that students graduating this year owe an average of £21,755 – more than the average basic £21,000 salary of junior doctors.

The findings are based on responses from more than 1,900 medical students between May and September 2006. Nearly all (92%) had a student loan, and six in 10 (60%) had an overdraft. Almost one in five (17%) had a bank loan and two-thirds (63%) had around a £1,000 of credit card debt.

One respondent owed £53,350, more than 100 students owed more than £30,000, and 13% had debts in excess of £25,000.

The high debt levels are explained by the fact that medical students study for two or three years longer than those on most other courses, have fewer opportunities to work part-time, and face additional expenses for travel to a variety of hospitals.

The BMA is calling for NHS bursaries, which some final year students already receive, to be made more widely available and for improved student access to hardship funds and other forms of financial support.

It also wants a change to the new top-up fee system, to allow graduate students to pay their fees at the end of their course, rather than at the start of each year.

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.

“The government has said it wants to increase the number of UK doctors and to widen participation in medicine. It will fail in both of these aims unless it takes action to tackle the significant financial pressures facing medical students.”

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