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“They Seem To Forget” : The Harsh Realities Of Being A UK Medical Student

 

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“They seem to forget about the students who don’t have other means of financial support” - Kimiya Amiri, third year MED student, University of East Anglia.

 

Throughout history, medical education has predominantly been dominated by “the upper middle class and the wealthy”. However, today, more and more students from diverse backgrounds are enrolling onto medical programs. Despite this shift in demographics, has there been a corresponding change in the financial expectations associated with pursuing a medical degree?

According to Kimiya Amiri, a third-year student, and Chris Zhao, a second-year student at the University of East Anglia, there has been insufficient support for medical students in terms of both finances and job security. While their passions revolve around their curiosity for medicine and the rewarding aspects of  working with patients during placement, they face numerous burdens that often go unrecognised.

 

Hardships work-life balance

Both students highlighted the difficulties of maintaining a work-life balance. With full-time university commitments from Monday to Friday, including eight-hour hospital placement shifts on some days, and weekends consumed by exam revision, one might wonder where there's room for personal activities.

Well, Kimiya explains, “Through the years the content not only increases but is more difficult. Maintaining a balance between my studies and personal life is something I have learned over the years to get better at.” She highlights the mental strain that comes with the workload and underscores the importance of making time for mental health.

In addition to maintaining a personal balance, the environment within the medical student community can also take a toll on individuals. The intense competitiveness and constant comparison that accompany this degree create additional stress.

Chris notes that sometimes there is “gatekeeping and refusal to work alongside each other just to gain an advantage”. This, combined with feelings of “imposter syndrome” and a persistent sense of  “feeling like I’m behind” impacts the individual, according to the students.

 

Financial struggles

A 2022 survey by the British Medical Association (BMA) revealed that 44.4% of medical students run out of money before the end of the term. While maximum student loan average £9,250 per year from years one to four, it drops significantly to around £2500 after fourth year.

Although students can apply for an NHS Bursary, which has a maximum of £3,715, The high costs of housing raises a critical question: can medical students realistically afford to live on such limited funds?

Kimiya, who relies solely on the maximum loan due to her low household income, explains that her loan was cut to £2,700 this year, making it nearly impossible to afford living expenses at university. She states that the combined bursary and loan “will not even cover rent for the year,” calling the situation “ridiculous” and noting that many students struggle with this financial burden.

Chris, on the other hand, mentions that he is fortunate to receive financial support from both student loans and his parents. However, he acknowledges, "If it wasn’t for them, I would have a lot more stress on my shoulders."

Kimiya points out that “nothing so far has been done to sort this out for students who actually can’t get any financial support from parents”

Medical students are often advised to get weekend jobs as healthcare assistants if they need more money. However, Kimiya questions the feasibility of this: “Realistically what time will I have for myself by doing that? Either way, it’s a struggle.”

It appears that medical students face an ultimatum: the choice between financial stability and mental health.

 

Job Security

Despite the hardships faced in medical school, one might assume it’s worth it to secure a job as a doctor. Well, that may no longer be the case.

In the past, medical school would almost guarantee a job as a doctor. Now, despite passing all exams, Chris expresses his concerns about the future: “There is a genuine possibility that after medical training, I can’t get a job as a doctor.”

For some, the job security was a persuasive factor for choosing medicine as a degree. Imagine spending years working towards a career, only to find it out of reach. Chris explains that the media misleads us by claiming there aren’t enough doctors. “There are enough doctors but not enough training posts after they finish their foundation years,” he says.

The government’s failure to create enough training posts heightens the competitive nature of medicine. “The government don’t really care. By making it so competitive they can hand select the very best and pay them less” Chris explains.

In 2022, 791 final year medical students were placed on the reserve list for training places, causing significant uncertainty for those who had completed their education.

Although the UK government recently confirmed 205 additional medical school places for the new academic year in 2024, this questions whether there is any point if there are not enough appropriate positions and resources for the current and future students.

 

Student Voices

Ultimately, both students demonstrate the immense pressure, challenging environment, and financial difficulties faced by medical students.

When asked about desired changes, Chris emphasises the need for more job opportunities and training posts after his education. Kimiya focuses on financial support, believing that “they should either provide a separate support source financially for people with low household incomes or increase the maintenance loan.”

Shouldn’t these students be given the ability to focus on the demanding content of their medical education without the added pressures of finances and job security?

 


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