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Studying medicine these days comes with a whole new variety of pressures, not least financial and for many this is set to rise.
From a less privileged background I started Medical School with the maximum maintenance Loan and Grant in hand and a year’s work under my belt. I thought I had my finances sussed but in a student finance system that is increasingly designed for those from more advantaged backgrounds, it was always going to be an uphill struggle.
From the side lines I watched my more fortunate friends’ parents pay for their tuition fees to protect them from a lifetime of debt. I saw them have their first car bought, their rent paid for and then their first home before they’d even started their third year. I watched as they transferred their maintenance loans to their parents’ bank accounts in return for monthly allowances and credit cards.
I am not bitter. These were my friends. Who wouldn’t maximise their standard of living whilst minimising their future debt burden if they had the opportunity?
No, my issue is with the diminishing support for those whose backgrounds mean they are barely surviving at medical school and for those who now won’t even attempt that struggle as the cap on tuition fees is removed and the maintenance grant is scrapped.
These were the last supports keeping the inequality gradient between advantaged and disadvantaged students a small hill as oppose to a mountain.
These decisions may burden the poorest medical students with debts of up to £100,000.
In my second year my parents divorced and my family home faced repossession. With no family financial support or home to return to in the holidays I found myself doing everything anything I could to survive within the limits of a medical degree
With long term times and full days spent on clinical placement, part time work was near impossible to achieve without the detriment to study and for this reason it is actively discouraged by most medical schools.
Despite this I managed some cleaning jobs and catalogue delivery in holiday time. I was also a keen artist and managed to sell some paintings but these alone could not see me through.
It was thanks to the fantastic Student Support at my Medical School I was pointed in the direction of the University Hardship Fund and the Royal Benevolent fund.
The hardship loans were a lifeline that I would recommend to anyone in extreme financial difficulty. An important point to remember is that they are not instant and the application process can be long and arduous. Do not leave it until you are in absolute financial crisis before you apply as I did. This left me dependent upon the charity of foodbanks whilst waiting for loans to be approved.
Do talk your options over with someone before making any rash decisions; Medical School Student Support and University Support are good places to start.
I am not going to patronise those in similar positions by telling them how they can budget. The financial difficulty they face goes way beyond whether they bought supermarket own brand baked beans.
Through their plans to trample the support available to the poorest of students, the government demonstrates a complete lack of recognition of the barriers medical students face. Whether that be 5/6 years of rent, utility bills and travel to and from placements or the number of students declining opportunities to further themselves through intercalated degrees and electives abroad because of additional costs. This only acts to widen the divide and opportunity to excel.
It is a sad state of affairs when your CV reflects your background and available finances as oppose to your actual potential.
My best advice is to be honest and open about the financial barriers. Don’t be ashamed to take up electives at home – these can be just as valuable. Look into available grants and bursaries. Raise awareness about the challenges you face, whether its writing a letter to your MP or campaigning against fee rises.
Most of all, be proud that you are contributing to a more diverse future medical workforce and will have so much to offer the most vulnerable in society at the frontline of healthcare.
I have been an FY1 for 3 weeks. I have just completed a 97 hour stretch on the acute surgical unit. I have been hit, kicked, spat on, bled on and vomited on.
In one week I will receive my first pay packet; pay that has in real terms has been cut and will continue to be cut for the next 5 years. It will be further chipped away by the increments of the £45000 debt I have incurred at medical school to be paid back with interest rates of up to 3%.
I do though have many things to be grateful for; grateful that I will earn more than the £50 a week I received when facing the humiliation of signing on at the job centre only weeks ago and most importantly, grateful that the job truly is as rewarding and fulfilling as I had hoped.
Ellie Blakeston is a foundation year 1 in Hull
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