Studying medicine needs to be accessible to everyone, not just the wealthy – Angus Pinsky

With medical students struggling to get by, the government should provide a grant in exchange for a commitment to work for NHS Scotland

There is a historic view of medical students as being privileged and wealthy – this reputation is not unearned, as medicine has traditionally been inaccessible to many in society. However, the number of applicants from lower socioeconomic backgrounds entering medical school is growing – this must be both celebrated and built upon.

Medical students are facing acute financial difficulties. A recent survey conducted last year, by BMA Scotland, revealed the challenges many are facing, with 94 per cent of respondents agreeing that medical school has impacted their finances, and a staggering 70 per cent reporting that their current financial situation at university has impacted their mental health.

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When studying medicine, we experience huge associated costs, due to the need to travel up and down the country for placements, undertake challenging and time-consuming studies, and complete a wide range of extracurricular activities which are essential to career progression. Compared to other healthcare degrees such as nursing, paramedic studies, and midwifery – which have bursaries of up to £10,000 a year available throughout – there is a paucity of financial support for medical students once they begin their studies.

Training enough doctors to replace those who leave is of fundamental importance to the NHS (Picture: Tom Stoddart/Getty Images)Training enough doctors to replace those who leave is of fundamental importance to the NHS (Picture: Tom Stoddart/Getty Images)
Training enough doctors to replace those who leave is of fundamental importance to the NHS (Picture: Tom Stoddart/Getty Images)
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Medical students are the future of the NHS workforce and we cannot afford to los...

In our final years of study, we are expected to spend the vast majority of our time on clinical placements, which do not follow the 9-5 schedule of a normal working week; instead they include a variety of out-of-hours working, weekends, and even nightshifts. On top of this, we are lucky if we receive our upcoming placement schedules more than a week in advance. Taken together, these circumstances often prove an insurmountable barrier to undertaking part-time work, which can provide a crucial supplement to our student loans. As ever, this affects those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds the most, many of whom cannot rely on family support to get by.

This is why the BMA’s Scottish Medical Students Committee is calling for the government to provide an optional ‘return-of-service bursary’, available to all medical students in Scotland, which offers a grant in exchange for working in NHS Scotland. This would provide students with essential financial support, and would be a goodwill gesture from the government to support those who wish to remain in Scotland after completing medical school.

Alongside this, medical students should be provided with free bus and rail travel – a recognition of the current frustrations we face claiming reasonable travel expenses. The current processes vary widely and fail to meet the needs of students. They leave us out of pocket for unacceptably long periods, for months and months, and we are regularly reimbursed less than we have spent. Free public transport would be a common-sense solution to this problem, especially as the government has the power to simply extend existing schemes to cover medical students over the age of 22, which will be almost all of us by the time we finish our degree.

It benefits no one if our future doctors are forced to choose between paying their rent and putting every effort they can into their medical studies. The government must equip medical students to best serve the communities and people of Scotland.

Angus Pinsky is a medical student at the University of Dundee

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