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Articles > March, 03, 2008

Doctors on the Dole

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For centuries being a doctor has been a revered profession.  This can be seen even today in the way most people respect doctors, and in some instances literally put their lives in doctors’ hands.  As a medical student I have heard many patients utter the words “Whatever you think is best doctor”, possibly without truly thinking about the decision they are making.  There are currently over 100,000 doctors working in the NHS, and 38,000 medical students training as we speak.  My training started almost 4 years ago, and at the time I assumed that my main worries once qualifying would be paying off debt, working long hours and desperately trying to keep on top of ever changing guidelines.  One thing I wasn’t counting on having to worry about was that after all this training and debt, that I might be unemployed.  It costs the NHS over £250,000 to train a doctor with the average medical student debt often in excess of £20,000 by graduation, so why is all this money being effectively thrown down the drain?

The shortfall of doctors in the NHS has been well publicised in the media.  It is this simple fact that makes it seem that becoming a doctor would provide job security that no other career could.  In order to rectify this shortfall the number of available places at Medical School has been steadily increased over the last decade.  This seems like a simple solution to a simple problem, unfortunately it appears that nobody had thought beyond that point.  Eventually these students were going to become doctors, competing for the same number of jobs.  A government promise that every UK medical student would be guaranteed a job on graduating has unfortunately not been upheld.  A combination of increasing applications from non-UK graduates and decreasing numbers of training posts has left some medical graduates jobless.  As if this situation wasn’t bad enough, the number of jobs for doctors of SHO level (1-2 years post graduation) actually fell by 50% between 2002 and 2005, leaving 1 in 3 unable to progress in their medical training, however the reason for decreasing training posts for doctors at all levels remains unclear.

It doesn’t take a genius to realise that more doctors plus less jobs equals unemployment.  A BMA survey in 2005 showed the gravity of the situation, finding that in order to continue training, over 50% of doctors would happily move overseas and 33% would actually leave the profession altogether.  This means that the NHS has paid a large proportion of the bill to train doctors, yet is letting them down at the final hurdle.  Ian Noble of the British Medical Association (BMA) was quoted as saying, “If the government refuses to open up sufficient training places for these young doctors, this will leave them unemployed, hugely in debt and wondering what on earth to do next”.  On a personal level, this sums up the situation perfectly.  After years of training and accumulating debt, I feel let down.  I have yet to graduate, but what I have achieved so far seems worthless without the opportunity to put it to good use.  As clichéd as it may be, all I want to do is help people, but I’m no longer sure I’m going to get that opportunity no matter how desperately I want it.  The Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has admitted that only approximately 29,000 of 32,300 applicants from new medical graduates to more senior doctors can be accommodated, showing just how grim the situation is.  This has lead many medical students to ask why they bothered in the first place.  At my stage, had I done a ‘normal’ 3 year degree I could have already been working for almost a year, with less debt to pay off with the money I would be earning now.  In addition, prospective medical students are realising that unemployment amongst doctors is a real possibility, which is shown by the 8% decline in applications to Medical School in recent years.  Unless a suitable solution to the problem is found soon, the NHS may find doctors voting with their feet by leaving for countries who will gladly give them a job or even worse, leaving the profession altogether creating a skills deficit.  Honestly, I don’t blame them.

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  1. Dawn

    I’m studying to be a Speech and Language therapist and we’re facing similar employment problems after graduation too, so I really sympathize. Don’t give up hope – you never know what’s round the corner and even if you can’t become a doctor right away after graduation you’re obviously an intelligent, articulate person who could maybe do something else just to ‘bridge the gap’ until you’re successful in finding a position. Wishing you the very best of luck for your future.

  2. Udeze E. O.

    Though I’m not yet in the university but already given an offer which I have already accepted. My comment on this matter is that, even though there may not be enough job opportunity for the doctors but I still accept that being a doctor is one of the greatest profession I’ve ever known in the world. And even after your graduation as a doctor I can always say that I’m glad to come up with a degree as a medical doctor even if I have to futher more maybe in other courses, it can even make me have the knowledge and at the same time that one day I can smile to the bank. Thank you

  3. Paulina

    Looks really scary to me, it has been a dream of mine to go to med school when it’s time to go to university. it was, however, until i realised that it wasn’t my dream but my family’s. Reading this article, I can honestly say that don’t regret for a second that I chose English instead. I ‘d like to thank you for enlightening me, and I will make sure my parents read this! I don’t want to sound like there is no pride in becomming a doctor, however we all need to realise that it’s not as glamorous as it seems and only those who really want it should proceed. I could have taken a place from someone who felt the calling.

  4. !

    i haven’t started uni yet, i’m waiting for edinburgh and leeds to get back to me, but i can’t wait to get into med school!! i’ll be sure to reply properly to your article as soon i have some medical expertise (can’t waaaaaaaaaiiit!) i’m also interested in neurobiology, seems like a very intersting field to a part of. we’ve done a module of neurobiology in my IB biology course and it just proved to me tht i will enjoy it uni.

  5. Aliza

    Oh my gosh! That’s got to be so true. I havent started university yet and I am still waiting on my replies, but this sounds so scary. Does that go for neurosurgeons as well? I hope not because that’s the field I would be studying after I get my MBCHB. I personally think medical students should start getting creative and combine their medical studies with a little of something else, like genetics perhaps. It will look good on your CV.