You’re thinking about med school but you know it’s expensive. But med students do work right? You’ve seen them in teaching hospitals or clinics interacting with the public. Sometimes it’s even easy to mistake them with real doctors!
So do med students get paid?
Med students don’t get paid until after they’ve completed their studies. There’s no pay for clinical-based learning (rotations). They don’t get paid for any help they give in hospital while there as students. This is pretty unanimous worldwide!
But there are a couple of exceptions to this. We’ll go into that in this article.
Here’s what else you’ll learn:
- Why med students don’t get paid
- If residents or interns get paid (and how much)
- If med students are rich (helping them study without being paid)
- How they survive financially
As a med student who knows (all too well!) the expense involved becoming a doctor, I’m pretty well placed to explain it!
Interested in finding out more? Let’s go!
Why don’t med students get paid?
Some people (especially med students) might think it’s unfair med students don’t get paid. But here are some good reasons why:
- Med students are still “learning”: even when shadowing or assisting physicians in clinic/hospital
- They are not adequately trained to adopt the work of physicians, nurses or any other medical assistant
- The minor procedures they may do are (usually) menial/basic at best (bloods, cannulas etc.)
- Their schedule isn’t as intense as any junior doctor (interns, residents etc.)
- Their responsibilities are minimal
Obviously there are some med students who go above and beyond what’s expected of them during their studies. Some might stay longer, take up more responsibility or help and assist patients etc.
But they won’t be paid for this work as long as they’re there in the capacity of a “medical student”.
So is there any place med students do get paid?
There are no countries that actively pay med students.
U.S., UK, Australian, Ireland and South Africa-based students receive no money while studying. The closest some get are bursaries or scholarships (more on this later), that help cover tuition and living costs.
And that’s despite some students doing active, hospital-based work that other hospital or clinical employees, in the same position, might be getting paid for.
Do med students get paid for rotations?
“Rotations” describe med students moving from pre-clinical study (where they take classes out of a hospital setting) to learning they do directly on hospital wards. They are not paid for this.
This can be confusing because:
- Med students have a “work schedule” during their rotations
- They stay until dismissed by residents (or senior staff)
- There’s an expectation for med students to treat rotations like “a job” (professionalism, etiquette etc.)
- They have direct contact with patients and physicians (sometimes even doing minor procedures)
The idea is students apply what they’ve learned theoretically (typically years 1-2) and “observe” it in real-world practice.
Because they’re not technically employed, or qualified, they don’t make money doing this.
Do medical residents get paid?
Medical residents are graduates of med school and therefore do get paid.
Typically residency pay increases with each year, until the individual becomes an attending physician. Pay after that then depends on varying factors; including business ownership, consultation fees etc.
The average medical resident salary in the U.S. is $63,400 per year, according to 2020’s figures. That’s up from $61,200 reported in 2019 (Source).
Residents at a higher level of training (as well as those in different specialties) can make even more.
In countries like the United Kingdom, where residency is the equivalent to Senior House Officer (SHO) or “specialty doctors”, the story is the same. They make between £41,148 to £76,751 annually according to NHS Careers.
Do medical interns get paid?
Medical interns are first year post graduate (PGY1) doctors in the U.S., they are paid.
Compared to residents (which they go on to become after a year), the amount they earn is obviously lower.
The mean medical intern salary was $54,107 according to 2016 data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
PGY1’s in other countries are also paid. Again their salary is lower than residency level (or equivalent) because they are more junior on the doctor career ladder.
In the UK a PGY1’s pay is about £33,340. While in Australia it’s about $72,837 to $86,328 AUD.
Med school has to be completed before reaching any of these levels.
Are medical students rich?
So if med students don’t get paid, you might be wondering; how do they pay for things like their tuition (not cheap!) or their living expenses?
While these costs definitely vary (depending where you go to med school), the pressures are the same. Med students don’t have a lot of free time to work or earn money. Because of that, they’re not (independently) rich.
Not getting paid obviously doesn’t help with that!
The reason I caveat the above with the adjective “independently” however is because a large proportion of med students, at least in the UK (source) and the U.S. (source), come from wealthy backgrounds.
And this is a continuing trend in most other countries too. The idea being that wealth encourages higher-performing students who can also afford the expensive application costs involved getting into medicine.
So while those med students themselves might not directly be “rich”, many have their families wealth to fall back on.
That can certainly help overcome the idea of not getting paid while in med school!
Scholarships, bursaries and full rides in medical school
A couple of ways med school’s become more accessible for people from low income backgrounds is through scholarships or bursaries.
“Full rides”, where tuition is waived entirely (as it is at schools like NYU), also exist (despite not usually covering living costs).
Typically, to take advantage of each of these options, you have to hit several criteria:
- Be an exceptional or high-performing student (high GPA/A-levels etc.)
- Show proof of eligibility (means tested “low income” status)
- Have permanent residency status (and sometimes state residency)
So these are others ways to counteract the difficulties of not getting paid while in med school.
How do medical students earn money?
So if med students don’t get paid and can’t get a scholarship, how do they make it through?
Many think of other (some quite creative) ways to solve the issue.
- Starting a small business in medical school (here’s a bunch of ideas)
- Creating a blog or starting YouTube (check out Ali Abdaal’s story)
- Getting a part-time job (best in the pre-clinical years)
- Tutoring or teaching on the side
Follow the links above to discover more!
How do med students pay for living expenses?
There are a couple of ways, aside from bursaries, scholarships etc., that med students can help pay their living expenses.
I go into these in more detail here…
For the most part though, the easiest thing to do is try and reduce (or cut) expenses as much as you can.
That’s a lot easier than going out and trading time for money (like you would with a job) while your USMLE score (or equivalent) takes a hit!
Not getting paid as a med student may seem a little unfair (especially in the case of sky-high fees) but it’s the norm for most of the world.
Unfortunately your educational status as a “student” dictates you haven’t quite earned the right to get paid yet.
That’s good news for tax payers but probably not if you’re anything like me (an actual med student)!
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Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.