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Medical School Finance: What You Need To Know

Medical School Finance: What You Need To Know

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

The landscape of medical school finance can be a confusing one if you’re approaching it for the very first time.

Whether students in the UK have to pay for medical school, how people afford it if they do, whether medical students are eligible for any bursaries…

I’m sure you’ve got lots of questions- all of which I’m going to try and address in this quick guide to your medical school finances.

Do Medical Students Pay Tuition Fees?

First of all, a big and incredibly important question, do medical students actually have to pay tuition fees in the first place?

Medical students pay tuition fees in the exact same manner as any other university student. The majority of public medical schools charge the UK maximum of £9250 per year in tuition, while private medical schools can charge anywhere between £38,000 and £44,000 per year.

Unfortunately for us, medical students don’t get any special treatment when it comes to paying university tuition fees.

If you’re using Student Finance England, your tuition fees are paid directly to the university- so you never actually see the annual £9250 in your bank account.

Person calculating their student fees on their phone

To be fair, if anything medical students do get a better deal than other students as a medicine course costs the university significantly more than the tuition fees they’re charging.

Medical schools are only able to continue running and continue churning out junior doctors by virtue of the fact the government subsidises them for the cost of training medical students.

You can see this reality reflected in the fact that private (a.k.a. independent) medical schools generally charge students closer to £40,000 per year in order to cover the costs of training them.

How Do People Afford Medical School In The UK?

Considering there’s a whole lot more to funding your time at university than just the tuition fees, how do people actually afford medical school?

Students in the UK are able to afford medical school through a combination of student finance, personal savings and not uncommonly contributions from their parents. Undergraduate home students are eligible for loans that cover the entirety of their tuition fees and the majority of living costs.

Student Finance England will provide student loans to any UK resident who’s studying a full-time undergraduate degree.

You can still get student loans as a postgraduate but they can just be significantly more limited.

As an undergraduate, you’ll almost certainly qualify for loans for all of your tuition fees and a means-tested loan for your living costs.

A lot students do find however that their student loan isn’t always sufficient to cover all of their living costs.

This is particularly true for students living in London- although they are eligible for a slightly larger loan due to the increased cost of living, this often is still insufficient to even things out.

This means a lot of students either have to dip into their savings to cover living costs, work while at university or during the holidays for a bit of extra cash or have their parents cover them with a stipend while they’re studying.

Do Medical Students Get A Bursary?

A bursary can enable a student to study medicine at university when they otherwise might not be able to afford it.

Undergraduate medical students are eligible for the NHS bursary from their fifth year of study, whilst postgraduate students start receiving it from their second year. Students are also able to receive other bursaries from awards, scholarships or widening participation programmes.

Although the NHS won’t pay for your time at medical school in full, all medical students can get an NHS bursary to cover the end of their studies.

Aside from this, there are some other options open to you to lighten the financial burden of five years at university.

A man sitting at a desk with his laptop and calculator

Lots of universities offer awards, scholarships and widening participation programmes.

If you’re lucky enough to qualify for one, the university will normally help contribute to your tuition fees, living expenses or both.

For example, Hull York Medical School will automatically award you a £2,500 annual scholarship if your household income is less than £25,000.

Imperial College London offers the William Anglesea Scholarship that’s awarded for outstanding performance during the admissions process. One lucky student each year has their tuition fees paid for in full for up to six years.

If you’re interested in finding out more, I’d recommend Googling the name of the medical school you’re applying to + ‘scholarship/bursary.’

Alternatively, you can actually find a list of charitable trusts that can offer financial help to prospective medical students here.

Medical School Finance For International Students

Things get a bit more complicated if you’re planning to study medicine as an international student.

Tuition fees can vary depending on where you’re studying and whether you’re from the EU or outside the EU.

If you are an international non-EU student, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get a loan from Student Finance England.

To find out what you’re entitled to, I’d really recommend checking out the UK Council for International Student Affairs’ website– they’ve got a great page on fees for overseas students.

An interesting point to note is that some universities will actually offer their own student loan schemes to international students from low-income backgrounds.

This means that even if you think the international fees for a university might be completely out of your reach you may still have options.

Other Ways You Can Finance Medical School

There are a couple of other ways you can finance your time at medical school that’s not taking out gigantic loans.

One option open to you is that of the military.

All three of the Army, Navy and RAF recruit doctors in medical school and contribute towards (or completely cover) their tuition fees once they’re signed on.

Just looking at the Army, medical students can sign on as a bursar for their final three years. During these years, you’ll receive an annual £10,000 grant that you can put towards your tuition fees or living costs.

Alternatively, the Navy actually pay their bursars a salary. That means despite being a full-time student you get a monthly wage!

In return for signing up to the military, you are obligated to serve for a set number of years.

This is generally anything from 3-5 years as an initial sign-on, that you can then extend if you choose to undergo specialist training with them.

Final Thoughts

Considering the sums of money involved, student finance can be quite a daunting topic to tackle as a prospective university student.

If you’re a British undergraduate student things are comparatively simple. However, they quickly get more complicated if you’re an international or postgraduate student.

The BMJ and the BMA both also have excellent guides on student finance for medical students that I’d recommend checking out if you want to learn more.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.