As a sixth form student, before entering medical school, you may be aware of a few standard costs that you will need to pay, usually with the help of Student Finance. The most significant costs that you may know of include tuition fees, accommodation and living expenses. However, along with these substantial outgoings, there are also a few hidden costs that students may need to endure. These can add up to a hefty fee if you aren’t careful, and so this blog will hopefully help by outlining what a few of them are and how you can save money on them.
Some of the most notable hidden costs of medical school include:
Most medical students will live near enough to campus allowing them to travel to and from university without incurring significant transport costs (often none). As a result, students can often assume travel isn’t a cost that they will need to budget in. However, medical school isn’t taught just from lecture theatres and classrooms but also through placements in the community. Although long-term placements are more likely to take place within the clinical years (last three years) of the degree, medical schools are increasingly offering early clinical exposure. Therefore, during your first few years, you may also be attending occasional placements at hospitals and GP practices which can be some distance away from your accommodation resulting in travel expenses that can add up over the year. It’s important to plan your journey early; once you are aware of the time and location of a placement start to think about how you are going to get there. Some ways to save money could be by buying student discounted weekly/seasonal bus/train passes depending on how often you are going, taking taxis with friends and dividing the fare or car sharing with someone who has a car and splitting fuel costs. If you are taking the train/tube often, you can also think about buying a 16-25 railcard (£30 for one year, £70 for 3 years or 4 years free with a Santander student account). This card saves you a third off rail fares (including off-peak TFL tube fares) which can be lucrative even if you don’t need to travel to placements as it can save you lots off train journeys when going back home during the holidays. As well as travelling for academic reasons, society commitments such as sports matches can also be some distance away and occur regularly, meaning that costs can add up quickly. Travel costs for placement and societies may be reimbursed/subsidised by the university and so it is worth checking if this is the case and if so, be sure to keep receipts.
When you begin medical school, you can become inundated with reading lists and recommendations from lecturers for textbooks (sometimes cheekily plugging their own) and you may feel that you need to purchase all of them to do well. These textbooks can cost upwards of £50 each and buying several means the costs can build up to hundreds of pounds. However, there are several ways to save money and not have to incur these hefty costs. The first is to think about the free ways to access these textbooks. Medical school libraries can often have these textbooks on the shelf and so try to visit the library early in the year and loan them before they are all taken by others (sometimes these are slightly older editions but most of the information is the same). This gives you a chance to sample the textbook so that you can return if you don’t like it; renew it as many times as possible if you just want to read/take notes from it, or buy one if you liked it and want to write/draw in it. As well as a physical library, some textbooks may also be accessible in the university online library to access from your laptop/computer whenever you need it. If you are unable to sample a textbook for free, then before committing to buying any textbook take some time to think about how useful it will be to you. There is a lot of information readily available free online for you to access so be sure that it will be helpful before purchasing, this is best done through reviews from other medical students in the years above who may also be able to sell you their textbook if they don’t need it anymore at a cheap price. You may also find good prices for used textbooks online or could split the cost of a new textbook between some friends and borrow it off each other when needed. If you are dead set on purchasing a new textbook for yourself then please look around for the best deals and try and take good care of it so that you can hopefully re-sell it at a good price or donate it when it is no longer needed.
A cost that can often be overlooked when entering medical school, is that of medical equipment needed by students to help them practise skills for their OSCEs (practical exams). A standard set of equipment that a medical student uses (not necessarily as soon as you start) to practice for OSCEs includes a stethoscope, a sphygmomanometer (fancy word for blood pressure cuff and gauge), tendon hammer, pen torch, tuning forks, and potentially a basic otoscope/ophthalmoscope. However, just because you will use this kit doesn’t mean that you need to buy all of it, especially not when you begin medical school. The only equipment that is usually recommended to buy yourself is a labcoat and stethoscope. Saying this, I would strongly advise you double check what is required and what is provided by your university (some provide the kit as gifts or awards throughout the course). A labcoat can often be bought from the medical school, or it’s usually cheaper online (Amazon/eBay). Ask students in the years above as to where they bought their labcoat from, or as labcoats are usually only needed for preclinical years, see if you can borrow/buy their old one. A stethoscope may not necessarily be needed when you begin medical school but you will definitely need it when you start your clinical years. It is important to have a good quality stethoscope, but not necessarily a very expensive one, especially as it can become easy to lose when you start placements. A staple that is purchased by many students and doctors is the Littmann Classic which comes in a variety of colours. To save money in purchasing a stethoscope you may find a good deal online, however, in previous years the BMA has provided a voucher if you sign up (free!) when you begin medical school with a discounted deal for a stethoscope to buy from Medisave. This offer also includes free engraving (useful if you lose it) and free delivery but note that it is only valid for a few months. Depending on your financial situation you may also be able to receive some support to purchase a stethoscope/textbook from your medical school so please check this out if you think you might be eligible. Other pieces of the medical kit listed above can often be borrowed from the university; from other students in the years above; or bought as a group so that you can split the costs and practice OSCEs together. Look for recommendations of which brand of kit to get and advice of where to buy it from through students in the years above and/or online reviews.
Question banks are used by medical students generously, particularly in the clinical years. As a result, the number of question banks available are always increasing and it can be difficult to know which ones to subscribe to. Although question banks are usually catered towards clinical students there are a few that can be useful for your first few years too. Ideally, you want to know which question banks are more valuable for your particular medical school and their style of questioning before committing to buying a long subscription. As always ask students in the years above as to what banks they found useful (if any) within the first few years. For newer question banks that are still being developed, it can be worth trying out a short subscription period (usually one month) before committing to longer subscriptions. When purchasing a long subscription, you want to consider how many months you will actually use the bank for before buying the subscription with the ideal situation being that the subscription ends just after your exams to get the best value. Popular banks include Passmed, Pastest, QuesMed, BMJ OnExamination, DoctorExams, Confidence.ac, BiteMedicine and Pulsenotes. You could always split a subscription between a couple of friends and do questions together, however, note that this can make it difficult to monitor your individual progress.
To save money in any situation, such as in medical school it is always key to do the research first. You need to decide whether what you are buying is useful and that it is good value for money. When you are starting medical school, the best source of advice is students in the years above who you may meet in events and through university societies. If you are unsure about a significant purchase, try and get a cheap/free sample of something to try it out before committing to buying it. It is key to always check for student discounts, these are wide ranging and can save money on all sorts of things (restaurants and gym memberships too! Unidays, NUS, VoucherCodes, Studentbeans can be useful here). Also, doing things in groups and splitting costs between friends is a great way to save.
Lastly, many medical schools can offer bursaries to students from low income households, if you think you might be eligible please check this out via their website/student office as early as possible in the year to sort out any paperwork and receive the funding quickly.
Author: Dhillon Hirani
Editor: Allegra Wisking