How do needy medical students cope financially?

How do needy medical students cope financially?

By Leong Sze Hian

I refer to the article “Wooing Singaporean doctors home” (My Paper, Mar 4).

Few needy students get aid?

In this connection, according to the article “Cost of medical education, financial assistance and medical school demographics in Singapore” by Ng C L, Tambyah P A, Wong C Y (2009), “21.9 percent (of medical students) came from families with a monthly income of less than S$3,000, with another 26.2 percent from families with monthly incomes of S$3,000–S$5,000″ but only “14.6 percent received scholarships or bursaries”.

Why is it that the percentage who received  scholarships or bursaries was so low, relative to the percentage of lower-income families?

More than $100,000 in debt?

“A five-year medical course can cost more than S$100,000 and pose a significant financial burden for students.

More rich than poor students?

The proportion of students who came from lower-income families was lower in medical school than at the
national level, while the proportion from high income families was significantly higher than at the national level. It can be observed that while 32.3% of Singaporean households have a monthly household income of < S$3,000, a significantly lower proportion of medical students (21.9%) fall under this range (p < 0.001). At the other end of the spectrum, while 28.8% of Singaporean households have a monthly income of > S$7,000, a much higher proportion (34.1%) of medical students fall under this range (p < 0.001).” – This means that lower-income families are under-represented, relative to higher-income families.

Financial deterrent?

– “Young doctors in Singapore can potentially accrue over S$100,000 in debt over the course of their undergraduate medical training. This enormous financial burden is expected to have major implications on the accessibility of medical school to students from lower-income families. High tuition fees may be an important deterrent for students from lower income families. ”

Almost half of pay gone?

“A student who is in receipt of the various loan schemes begins his or her house-officership with a debt of more than $100,000. With a repayment period of ten years and a prime interest rate of 5.88% per annum for the DBS Bank and OCBC Bank as the basis of computation, a young House Officer (HO) will be required to fork out approximately $1,131 monthly for ten years in order to pay off his loan. For a HO whose monthly take-home salary is approximately $2,500, almost half of his earnings will go towards the repayment of these education loans. This is likely to have a significant impact on the quality of life of these young medical graduates and their families.”

Stressed & low procreation?

“and also influenced their decisions on whether to have children. Medical students who have higher levels of debt worry more about their finances and experience higher levels of stress.  Again, the societal implications of these findings for Singapore need to be carefully considered.

Only 10.2% get help?

From our study, only 10.2% of medical students are on some form of financial aid that does not require repayment in monetary terms, such as scholarships and bursaries.

In the U.S. – 70%?

In the United States, a study of 118 medical schools revealed that 44% of medical students received scholarships from medical school or university sources alone, while 70% of medical schools had fund-raising campaigns to increase the amount of scholarship support available to medical students.”

Fees keep increasing?

“We are concerned about whether the level of debt will rise to a level at which medical training is no longer economically affordable for the less affluent Singaporean.”

Financial aid offset fees first?

Given the financial stress of medical students from lower-income families, I find it rather heartless to see from the university’s web site that – “Disbursement of Funds –

Upon satisfactory compliance of all terms and conditions of the scholarship/financial aid offer, funds in respect of the same will be credited to the student’s account with the Office of Financial Services. All bursaries will be disbursed in half on a semester basis and will only be disbursed if tuition fees are charged.

All fees due to the University will however be deducted from such proceeds prior to crediting” – Does this mean that a needy student who qualifies for financial aid like a bursary, will have his or her money used to offset any tuition fees outstanding first?

So, is it any wonder that you may meet needy students who may spend as many hours working part-time, than they spend studying?

A big thank you to those who have contributed more bursaries

As the data in the above article is now a few years old, hopefully things have improved. I believe they have improved a little – there are more bursaries now so that the figure is probably higher than the 10.2 per cent receiving financial aid, cited in the article.

The new list of bursaries available is at

I understand that one of the authors’ (of the article) family has actually contributed a bursary.

Perhaps it is a pity that the government does not make up the shortfall and we have to depend on concerned Singaporeans!