BMA Scotland: Medical students “burning out” due to financial pressures.

by BMA Scotland media team

Press release from BMA Scotland

Location: Scotland
Published: Tuesday 24 October 2023

Scotland’s medical students are struggling with the financial burden of studying medicine as the cost of living continues to rise, with BMA Scotland calling for the introduction of a medical students’ bursary to help ease financial worries and widen access to medicine.

A snap survey of 340 medical students across Scotland’s five medical schools has highlighted the pressure on student finances as a result of increased housing, food and travel costs alongside clinical placements. Worryingly, 94% of those who responded said that medical school had impacted their finances – with almost three quarters (73%) saying it had significantly impacted their finances. Only 1% reported no financial impact at all.

The survey also revealed:

  • 40% of those who responded said their current financial situation at university has had a significantly negative impact on their mental health, while a further 30% said it had somewhat negatively impacted their mental health.
  • 80% of those who responded said the overall cost of living crisis has had a very negative or negative impact on their mental health.
  • 80% of those who responded said having access to a terms of service medical bursary would significantly improve their current financial situation.

The BMA’s Scottish Medical Students Committee chair, Vash Loffelmann, said more needs to be done to protect medical students in Scotland financially.

He added: “Studying medicine requires huge amounts of learning, with students sometimes spending upwards of 40 hours per week just on practical learning through clinical placements – with an expectation of further studying and learning beyond this.

“Managing this workload while also trying to juggle a part-time job in order to make ends meet financially is not an easy task, and we are increasingly seeing students burning out before even starting work as a doctor. The financial pressures also mean that students have less time for independent study and to do extracurricular activities – things that are crucial for career progression.

“Unfortunately, this can lead to disparities between groups – particularly widening participation students who are more likely to have to work and often receive less financial support from their families, and students from more affluent backgrounds who can rely on greater support networks which allow them more time and resources to study for exams and enhance their career portfolios.

“We desperately need to bridge this gap in finances to allow medical students in Scotland to achieve their goals without being held back by the stress of increasing living costs and long part-time working hours. That is why we want to explore a return-of-service medical bursary that will positively impact medical students in Scotland – I am deeply concerned by the number of students who responded to our survey who said their current financial situation has significantly impacted their mental health, and it is clear change must be made. Medical students are the future of the workforce, we cannot afford to lose them before they even begin.”

Fourth year medical student, Ellie Ferguson highlighted the difficulties of being able to maintain part-time work while on placement. She said: “I’ve found it extremely challenging to find a job during placement years. With rotations demanding your presence from 9-5 on weekdays and weekends for on-call duty, there are limited hours left in the day. In rural placements, you might have to live away from home for six to eight weeks at a time, and these circumstances do not present themselves favourably for potential employers.

“Despite efforts to broaden the horizons of medical students, there remains a real lack of support once they enter medical school. In contrast, degrees like nursing or midwifery in Scotland provide financial assistance to students during their full-time placement years, recognising the significant time commitment – something we need to see happen for medical students too.”

Notes to editors

The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

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