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Medical Student Fees Eroding Medical Workforce

17 February 2006

Medical Student Fees Eroding Medical Workforce

The Government needs to find ways to reduce fees for medical students as medical student debt is eroding New Zealand's medical practitioner workforce, says NZMA chairman Dr Ross Boswell, in response to a two-part study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal today.

The study, funded by the NZMA under its summer studentship programme, is the first to measure the effect of debt on New Zealand doctors' career intentions. It shows that debt levels are increasingly influencing medical students' career decisions, including choice of specialty and leaving the country to work overseas.

"The medical workforce is facing shortages in a range of specialties at present and high student debt is a major factor," says Dr Boswell.

"Students with high debt are increasingly taking remuneration into consideration when choosing their specialty. It is especially worrying that only 9% of graduates choose general practice as their preferred specialty, when at present GPs make up 40% of the medical workforce in New Zealand and recent studies inform us that the GP workforce is already declining," says Dr Boswell.

Debt was also a major reason for medical graduates deciding to emigrate. "The sense of obligation felt by many graduates to remain in the country may have been undermined by personal debts and a focus on repayment," says Dr Boswell.

The study reports that the average debt at graduation is $65000 with 13 per cent of students owing more than $100,000. The study states that in equivalent US dollars, medical tuition fees are 40% higher than in Australian universities, and would be considered high by US and Canadian standards.

"We welcome the introduction of student interest write-offs later this year and believe this will have a positive effect for the medical workforce. However increased funding for medical schools allowing reduction of student fees is a more important change, and this recommendation of the study has our wholehearted support," says Dr Boswell.

The New Zealand Medical Students' Association President Xaviour Walker says that the Government must look seriously at addressing medical student debt burden by significantly reducing medical fees.

"Medical students currently pay $11,000 each year and with the fees increasing by 5% each year under the fees maxima, the situation will only get worse."


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