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Medical Students Prevented From Finishing

Medical Students Prevented From Finishing

A recent study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal found that medical student debt is astonishingly high (1). Compounding this problem the lifetime limit on the student loans means some medical students will be unable to finish their degrees. Postgraduate students are only able to claim 8 years of student loan (or “8 EFTS”) in total, and NZMSA is aware of over 50 students who will exceed this limit. Of those, just under 30 will run out before their final year of study. They are particularly badly affected as they will not be able to access the final year grant medical students receive, and thus have no apparent avenue to fund their studies.

“It is an abysmal state of affairs,” says NZMSA President Kieran Bunn. “These students have a unique set of skills, and come from a broad range of backgrounds. We risk wasting both their talent and the considerable prior investment in their education.”

Georgia, a current third year medical student, has a degree in Health Sciences and Commerce which focused on the drivers of health inequality and acquiring the administrative skills she thinks the health system needs to fix them.

“I am undertaking this study because I want to be a doctor more than anything. I believe that my previous study sets me apart and is of huge benefit to my future practice and New Zealand's future health care system.”

Georgia will be unable to claim the student loan for the last two years of her degree.

Natasha, also a third year student, has a background in Molecular Pharmacology and Medicinal Chemistry. Prior to starting her medical degree, she spent a year studying a technique with the potential to be applied in cancer research.

"I believe that my previous degree has been hugely advantageous and has allowed me to have a very fundamental understanding of the basic science behind our clinical teaching".

Natasha shares this fundamental understanding with her colleagues, holding several teaching positions for second year medical students at the University of Auckland. She intends to remain involved in research as a doctor. At this stage, however, she will need to find a way of personally funding the last two years of study.

The medical degree costs a little over $15,000 a year in course fees alone. Student living costs are an average of about $340/week, as estimated in this comprehensive report from the New Zealand Universities Students' Association (NZUSA, Therefore students will need find approximately $25,000 a year without any Government support. As the course is full time, there is little to no opportunity to work while studying, especially as the degree progresses, which means that people like Georgia and Natasha have no obvious path for funding their studies.

Mr Bunn said that "as well as the remarkable waste of talent we suffer by preventing medical students from finishing their degrees, the limit also risks closing the door to medicine on those who don’t come from wealthy backgrounds.”

"We desperately need doctors with a wide set of skills and from a wide variety of backgrounds to tackle the challenges of our future health system, such as climate change, growing inequity, and an ageing population. This lifetime limit actively excludes the very people we need."

NZMSA believes that postgraduate students in a number of other professional programmes face a similar problem and thus that the lifetime limit on student loans should be lifted for all these programmes to enable us to complete our studies.

(1) Verstappen A, Poole P. Rising levels of New Zealand medical student debt. N Z Med J. 2017;130(1457):38-44.


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