The cost of healing

Medical and nursing students face costs beyond tuition and books

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Dalhousie Medical Students Society President Mike Macdonald (Photo: Connor Rosine)

The province and its universities recently agreed to remove the cap on tuition fees for students in medical and dentistry programs.

But tuition for these students is only one of an increasing number of expenses they bear as part of their studies. 

Mike Macdonald is a 29-year-old med student. He is the president of the Dalhousie Medical Students Society (DMSS). He says that the extra things here and there really add up.

"The average medical student, assuming no help, no job, and no debt leftover form their undergrad, have a debt of $200,000," he says. "$8000 of that is just interest on a line of credit."

So beyond tuition, what do these students have to pay for? All sorts of things. Macdonald says that most students have to buy a whole new wardrobe once they begin going to hospitals.

"There's no dress code, but there's an understanding of professionalism," he says. "It can affect your evaluations." So, once you shell out the money for fancy dress slacks, that's it?

"Well, you have to replace them a lot, if you get blood, or plaster, all over them," he says. Doctors working in the hospital are reimbursed for clothing ruined on the job, but not students. 

Probably the largest expense is travel. Macdonald says that fourth year students have to do "The Tour", a trip doing applications and interviews for residencies all across Canada.

Starting in Brtish Columbia and heading east, Macdonald says it usually costs between $5,000 and $6,000. Some years, the Canadian Federation of Medical Students is able to negotiate lower airfare, but they weren't able to last year.

It's not just for after graduation, though. Medical students have to take rotations outside of Halifax in their third and fourth years. Dalhousie gives assistance finding a place to stay and they grant a $50 a week honorarium.

"Usually, the places they find for you cost, conveniently, $50 a week," says Macdonald. They are usually forced to pay for two places to live during the year.

Macdonald says that getting around town involves expenses too. Due to the late-night shifts, and the need to be 15 minutes away from a hospital when on call, the bus isn't much of a help. "You pretty much need a vehicle by third year," he says.

Not just med students

Emma Leon, co-president of the Dalhousie University Nursing Society (DUNS), says nursing students sometimes have to travel outside Halifax as well.

"It's usually with only a few days notice as well," she says. Leon, a 24-year-old fourth year student, says nursing students get a lot less help than med students. 

For example, medical students are donated equipment by the Canadian Medical Association, such as a stethoscope. Nursing students have to pay for that on their own. Leon says there are many little expenses that an add up quickly, which students aren't warned about.

Five dollars for a name tag, $30 for a lab coat, $50 for your CPR certification, $5 for an ID badge, $50 for a nursing badge, $40 for scrubs, and you need 3 sets. It can really add up. 

"We look at it as an investment," says Macdonald. Both Macdonald and Leon are trying to educate new students about the extra cost of their educatons.

DUNS has an orientation week every year, where they go over these costs, and the DMSS issues a "Don't Panic" guide to new students, which covers "hidden costs."

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