Medical students facing debt crisis

UCC survey reveals widespread debt leading to emigration of trained doctors from State


Irish medical students are facing a debt crisis which is contributing to the exodus of trained doctors from the State, according to a new study.

Graduate students of medicine are taking out loans of up to €100,000 to finance their studies which they then struggle to repay as newly qualified interns, the survey of UCC medical students reveals.

The rising cost of education will further squeeze representations of students from poorer backgrounds in medical schools, according to the study published in the Irish Medical Journal.

Medical students who graduate with debt are less likely to become GPs, while students from high-income backgrounds are most likely to pursue surgery as opposed to family practice.

The survey of 212 students found that graduate medical students planned to borrow almost € 80,000 before graduation, compared to € 17,000 for students entering directly from school. With newly qualified interns earning about € 2,000 a month, many graduates are struggling to meet repayments of € 1,300 a month to service a € 100,000 graduate medicine loan.

“Graduates are voting with their feet with many opting to leave Ireland in search of better working conditions abroad,” according to the authors at UCC’s health sciences centre.

Debt-induced medical stress contributes to academic underperformance, it points out. “Student responses revealed the conflict felt by students trying to minimise the loan burden and economic pressure on their families by trying to manage a part-time job and still perform in medical school.”

The study suggests that debt-laden medical students be given a “financial encouragement” to pursue postgraduate training opportunities in Ireland rather than emigrating. In Canada, for example, doctors are given financial rewards under a “return of service” scheme for working in rural areas.

“Another option, worthy of exploration, is a government backed interest-free or low interest loan for medical students.”

Only 20 per cent of the direct entry students surveyed were on a grant, compared to 43 per cent of students generally. “As costs continue to rise, there is a risk that the number of students from lower socioeconomic classes may fall even further.”

Graduate medical students pay annual fees of up to €15,000 for tuition only on a four-year course and cannot qualify for third-level grants.