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Medical students unlikely to repay student debts during working life

The average UK medical graduate is unlikely to ever fully repay large debts incurred whilst studying, which could affect recruitment, researchers have claimed.

A new analysis of salary data which looked at actual income of doctors, posed against record-high tuition fees and living costs, also showed that females were even less likely to ever be able to repay debts because they earn less per hour than male counterparts.

The researchers concluded such debts could lead to students opting for other careers, or looking to study abroad.

The findings, published in BMJ Open, contradict National Audit Office (NAO) calculations predicting most doctors can pay off £71,000 debts within 25 years.

Researchers said this deviation was explained by their study looking at actual earnings of graduate respondents - from national Labour Force Surveys between 1997 and 2014 – while the NAO model used NHS pay scales.

Their analysis of salaries for 4,286 medical graduates working more than 30 hours a week showed that the average doctor will have outstanding debts after 30 years, which is when they get written off.

The paper said: ‘The NAO presented a single simulation for a doctor graduating with an initial debt of £71,000, suggesting that they would clear the debt 25 years after graduating.

‘However, in the simulations presented here, neither a male nor a female medical graduate with an initial debt of £70,022 would ever repay the debt before it is written off.’

The researchers reached their average debt figure working on the assumption that a medical student would pay £9,000 in annual tuition fees for four years of studying, while the fifth and final year’s fees would be covered by the BMA and NHS bursary, leaving graduates with a total tuition fee debt of £39,946.

Taking into account maintenance loans, a student living away from home but studying outside of London would have a debt of £70,022, with a minimum debt of £64,000 for students living at home but studying outside London and £82,000 for London students not able to live with their parents.

The study authors said that ‘such levels of graduate debt may affect the recruitment of students to a career in medicine in the UK as some may choose alternative careers and others may decide to study medicine abroad’.

They further warned policy makers that ‘even small changes in the student loan contract in future will have substantial implications for lifetime wealth across different income groups, across male and female graduates, and on the sustainability of the student loans system’.

Their research showed that the gender pay gap begins to develop at age 30, growing progressively to a peak at age 55 when female doctors are earning 35% less than their male counterparts. According to the study, this was not because they worked less but because their hourly wage was signficantly smaller, with career breaks and flexible working due to motherhood posed as a possible explanation.

The BMA’s medical students committee chair Harrison Carter said: ‘This study echoes our repeated concerns about the financial plight of medical students facing graduation debts of at least £70,000.

‘The decision to allow medical schools to increase tuition fees to as much as £9,000 was a damaging move that places substantial financial barriers in front of the next generation of students from low and middle income families, and now this study suggests that those earning less will end up paying more, which is completely unacceptable.’

It comes as Pulse reported that a third of GP training positions for the August 2015 intake remain unfilled following the first round of recruitment.

Readers' comments (29)

  • Train to be a high earner so that you can afford private school/Grammar School, private health care and then vote Labour/Lib dem and call the Conservatives rich Tory toffs!!!!

    I despair!!

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  • What utter nonsense.Do you seriously expect us to believe that these future GPs and consultants on £100,000+ salaries will never be able to pay off a £71,000 debt and yet be able to afford nice cars,good houses and send their kids off to private schools.Get you act together Pulse otherwise you're going to fast lose credibility amongst your readers.

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  • Here! Here! to 11:56 and 12:03

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  • 'Do you seriously expect us to believe that these future GPs and consultants on £100,000+ salaries will never be able to pay off a £71,000 debt and yet be able to afford nice cars,good houses and send their kids off to private schools?' Sadly for generation Y, the debts on their education and ridiculously over-inflated housing costs have become too much to bear. The effects of this are rapidly becoming apparent with widely reported practice closures.This could leave entire areas of the UK with no primary healthcare if it is not addressed right now.

    Er yes actually - that's what the article says. It's because doctors have little choice but to take on other debts throughout their lives. Like many people, they probably aspire to owning a home but they also have to fund business loans to subsidize the NHS economy. This is how the economy works - you can only borrow what you can repay!

    Private schools never used to be the preserve of a small elite and the children of oil barons. Ordinary professionals who worked very long hours required them to support their childcare needs. Making all professionals poorer represents a profound structural change in our society and may destabilise the NHS as GPs are forced to stay at home longer. It will also have an impact on the number of school places the state has to provide and I understand there is already something of a crisis meeting demand for primary education.

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  • Err, I earn nothing like £100k, more like half. From my wages once pension, student loan (the amount taken is dependant on the amount I earn each month) tax and NI there is enough to pay for modest living, nursery fees and sending my other kid to a state school. No flash cars no private schooling, average flat, watching my money as most other people do. I cannot see where I would come up with extra money to pay off £70k of debt.

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  • I think it's naive of current gps to think there is no crisis! There is and its will all go to pot unless the government does something about it. It's not unreasonable to expect a professional who has worked hard and studied hard to be able to afford a middle class lifestyle. I think if we cannot say good bye to any UK trained medics in the UK! They will vote with their feet, not becoming medics or emigrating. I think it's shocking and unfortunately the nhs will collapse . My kids will not be doing medicine that's for sure! Forget morals , ethics and respect, go for individual worth and money.

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  • in the future it will be a luxury for GPs to have children as they will be working to pay off debt 12 hours a day 7 days a week - GPs are ion such short supply that it will be unlikely that a rota 40 hr week will exist.

    watch this space as EWTD is jettisoned and the GMC says to be registered as a GP you need to work full time - far fetched? anything is possible these days.

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  • i may be wrong but i think it's harder to get into med school than get in the LSE or a good law school?

    i also guess that the training and debt is also higher for doctors?

    i think it is also harder to get through the training to become a GP or consultant than to be a banker or a barrister.

    being a doctor is also more risky and the consequences of failure much greater for doctors.

    the pay for bankers and barristers is much higher so my message to youngsters is do your homework - being a doctor is no longer not worth the risk and you won't be valued - try something else instead.

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  • Anonymous | Sessional/Locum GP | 21 April 2015 12:19pm ....I completely agree with you

    It makes me want to chuck when I hear folk who likely had a free university education and sit on vast wealth in property they didn't earn say "everything will be fine" for the kids leaving uni with £71,000 of debt.

    Nauseating

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  • The older generation had it a lot easier than we have it. Many are emigrating and the economics may mean that this becomes a stampede. Not just medics but the most precious resource is our young people. Lose them at out peril.

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