In academic terms, I’ve had a very chilled out start to the term. I haven’t seen any patients yet, but soon, and in the meantime, the lectures are really interesting and the it’s all been very well-organised. I’ve got enough on my timetable to keep me busy, but I’m not working like a maniac. I’ve got a good group. It couldn’t be more different from my last SSM. I’m ridiculously happy to be back to work. Perfect, right?
For most of last week, I was sitting in third year classes and feeling my brain being engaged and, damn, having fun, but I always had a little voice in the back of my head reminding me that, although I might be sitting in third year classes, I did not know whether or not I was going to have funding to do third year.
A medical student from England pays somewhere around £3000 tuition per year. It’s a bit less if they’re studying in Scotland and a bit more if they’re in England or Wales, but roughly that. The students who came in as school leavers will have their tuition money loaned to them by the government, and they’ll pay it back once they start earning a decent salary. But for those of us who have come onto a five year course as graduate entrants, we’re not entitled to that loan and we have to find alternative means of funding our tuition. I’m in the fortunate position of having had my parents offer to pay my fees in first and second year, for which I offer them my eternal gratitude, but they couldn’t have afforded more. I’m paying for the rest of it. I also needed to find something that would cover my living expenses — graduates are entitled to the same government maintenance loan as school leavers are, but the increased length and expense of the clinical years together with the shrinking job market for summer temps have meant that that’s not enough to actually live on.
I’ve ended up taking out a professional trainee loan. It means that I’ll be living with a financial noose around my neck for seven years after graduation, but my choice was between that and dropping out. That isn’t a choice. I’ve worked too hard, I’ve come too far, and I love it too much. And it does help that I’ve known since before I even applied for graduate entry that this was something I would have to do one day. I considered it an achievement that I got to the end of second year without having to do it.
But there were a whole truckload of issues with the application for my bank loan and the processing of the application for my government loan had been somehow delayed, and that meant that for most of last week when I was sitting in class, I really didn’t know if I had any funding for this year. I would occasionally catch myself drifting off, pondering what would happen if I really did have to drop out. And, inevitably, I would get upset or start panicking. I may have actually shrieked ‘thank God’ in the middle of the street, when my bank manager called me on Thursday afternoon as I was walking home from the hospital. Having been swearing all week that everything was fine and that it would all work out, I was finally able to admit to my mum how worried I had been. “It would have been worse,” I said, “than if I had never got in in the first place.”
The stereotypical idea of a student is that of a rich kid, sponging off the government and not doing much work and using her student loan to fund nice shoes and lots of clubbing. I’m sure they exist, but I know they’re not the majority. I know that I’m not the only one who is literally scraping together every last penny just so that I can stay here. I won’t be unique when I graduate with a total debt of over £60,000 (having never, in eight years of university, bought a car or a pair of Jimmy Choos or an alcoholic drink). And I can speak for everyone in my year when I say that we work damn hard.
At some point in the not-too-distant future, the government is likely to announce its proposals to increase tuition fees to £10,000. If that happens, think about what I’ve been doing this week, think about how much harder it’s going to make an already Herculean task, and think about whether you want your doctors (and dentists and lawyers and nurses and teachers) to be chosen by the size of their wallet or by the content of their character.