Figures obtained by the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund (RMBF) charity under the Freedom of Information Act show that more than 1,000 medical students have quit over the past five years.
Financial and mental health pressure are key drivers behind medical students’ decision to quit, the charity's findings suggest.
Although 93% of medical students overall were happy with their decision to study medicine, two in five say they or someone they know had considered pulling out of their degree because of financial problems. A total of 60% of medical students had experienced financial pressure and 68% mental health pressure during their degree.
One in five students who withdrew from medicine did so during their final two years of study. With the cost of training a doctor estimated at around £220,000, the loss of these students so close to becoming qualified doctors is a blow both to the finances and future workforce of the NHS.
The RMBF - which provides financial support and advice to doctors and medical students experiencing difficulties - said preventing the loss of even a small proportion of these students could save 'millions of pounds'.
RMBF president Professor Dame Parveen Kumar DBE said: ‘We are seeing more and more medical students coming to us for support, and that’s no surprise when our research shows around two thirds are facing financial or mental health pressures.
‘Our medical students matter to this country and to future patients so it is vital that we give them the help they need to succeed. These are people who we and our children will depend on in future, and supporting them is one of the best investments we can make.’
GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'It is a concern that so many students are experiencing such pressure so early on in their training. It's important that medical schools do as much as they can to support their students as they start to experience the challenges of training to be a doctor but also look closely at the selection of students to see whether any lessons can be learnt on how best to prepare prospective medical students for what they may face during their studies.'
This RMBF report comes just days after health experts revealed that the NHS is currently short of around 100,000 employees - a figure that could rise to 250,000 by 2030 if current trends continue.
Health Education England said earlier this year that a record number of GPs had been recruited in 2018, and medical school places expanded by 25% this year to 7,500 in total.
Health secretary Matt Hancock, however, has dropped his predecessor's pledge to deliver an extra 5,000 GPs by 2020/21.
The RMBF has launched the ‘Med Students Matter’ campaign to support medical students through training. Belal, a final year medical student helped by the RMBF, said: ‘I had to work part-time to fund my degree but during my second year I started having serious health issues which required an operation, leaving me unable to continue working. Not being able to work created a black hole in my finances and without additional support I would have had to drop out.’