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Debt Report On Young Doctors Causes Concern

Debt Report Causes Concern

The report released today, Doctors and Debt: The Effect of Student Debt on Doctors, raises serious concerns about the future of the medical workforce in New Zealand, says the New Zealand Medical Association.

The report, a joint project by the New Zealand University Students’ Association, the New Zealand Medical Association, and the New Zealand Medical Students’ Association, shows how seriously medical graduates are affected by the high levels of fees they face, which result in huge debts.

Key findings of the report included:

• The total average doctors’ debt at graduation was $65,206
• 24 percent had a total debt more than $88,875 at graduation
• The average debt for Maori graduates was $81,250, $68,682 for Pakeha, and $48,180 for Asian graduates
• Only 20 percent of students received a living allowance for the full 6 years of their medical degree study
• 88 percent of those with student loans reported increased levels of stress because of their student loan
• 42 percent said that their student debt had influenced their decision when and whether to have children
• Nearly two thirds of respondents stated that they would consider leaving New Zealand within three years of graduating

The report calls on the Government to take urgent action, including:
• Decrease medical school fees towards zero
• Provide a living allowance for all students (which is neither means-tested nor loaned)
• Increase the Trainee Intern grant for sixth year medical degree students working in hospitals
• Introduce a fairer Student Loan Scheme

“Doctors will always play a pivotal role at the centre of the New Zealand’s health system.” said NZMA Deputy Chair Dr Don Simmers. “It is of great concern that so many of our medical graduates are leaving or plan to leave New Zealand soon after graduation, and there is evidence that their huge levels of debt have a lot to do with this. While New Zealand doctors have always gained overseas experience, our concern now is that they have little incentive to come back.“

High debt levels have many other negative consequences as well, and affect the specialty which medical graduates choose, as well as affecting their life decisions, such as whether to buy a house and when to have children.

“Specialties which are perceived as lower paid, such as general practice and psychiatry, are much less popular with graduates, but are vitally important to the health of New Zealanders,” Dr Simmers said.

“It makes no sense economically to continuing adding to the burden of medical students,” Dr Simmers said. “Thousands of dollars of taxpayers' money has already gone into their education. Now we need practical ways of encouraging doctors to stay here and work.

"It is vital that those studying medicine come from all sections of the community. The financial burden makes it more difficult for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds to even think about starting a medical degree, and these students are vitally important as their communities tend to have the highest health needs. Women students are also more disadvantaged because, for various reasons, they tend to earn less when working.”

The report is available to media from NZMA national office.

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