Budget constraints

LEARNING: Medical students are concerned about budget measures. Picture: FILE IMAGE

LEARNING: Medical students are concerned about budget measures. Picture: FILE IMAGE

GROWING up I knew that it was going to be difficult to attend university.

Not least of the reasons was the financial burden of moving away from home to attend medical school in the city.

Many within the medical student community are worried that proposed budget changes to tertiary education will make it even harder for country kids to become doctors.

Medical school fees are capped at $9792 per year, which for a four-year graduate medical course leaves you with a bill of $39,168. Add to that whatever you accrued by completing a Bachelors degree to get into medicine – let’s estimate $30,000-plus – and you’re conservatively facing at least $70,000 of HECS debt.

That’s by no means cheap or easy but it is manageable, even for regional residents like myself that have to tack on an extra $20,000 per year up front to move to Melbourne (sadly, there’s no HECS for rent and food). 

But because medicine is such a high-demand degree, the Grattan Institute has estimated that between funding cuts, tertiary education and proposed fee deregulation, costs to attend medical school will rise up to 270 per cent.

That sees $9792 per year transform into $37,000 per year, and leaves graduate medical students with a $200,000-plus debt (similar to the quarter of a million dollars debt regularly faced by North American medical students). 

With additional proposed changes to HECS interest rates, many are fearing that graduate medical students may end up forking over close to $500,000 just to qualify as a doctor.

It's no secret there are significant challenges facing Australia’s rural health workforce and it's been cited time and time again that a key way to address these challenges is by increasing participation of rural-background students in tertiary education, specifically health degrees. 

Even if rural students find a way to break through this proposed financial barrier (we’re a determined and resilient bunch), studies conducted in the USA show that increased debt from medical school pushes doctors away from training in primary care roles such as general practice.

Instead, medical students set their sights for lucrative specialities to recuperate the cost of becoming a doctor in the first place. 

Not only might we lose our talented country kids to more financially accessible professions, but also the ones that make it through will be more likely to stay in the city and complete sub-specialty training instead of returning home to more general work.

Ultimately, medical students will be hit particularly hard by the proposed changes to the tertiary education sector.

The end result is really just a series of handicaps for our country kids – many of whom may have otherwise represented the future of the generalised rural medical workforce.

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