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Hey doctors, please stay

Sask to help medical school grads pay down loans

Saskatchewan needs doctors. The province announced yesterday that it would be providing $450,000 to help medical residents with their student loans.

The province’s funding covers interest on student loans for medical residents over an eighteen month period, while government looks into longer-term strategies to ensure medical residents are assisted while completing their residencies.

“Keeping Saskatchewan-trained medical residents working in the province is a top priority of this government,” McMorris said. “As part of our ongoing retention and recruitment efforts, we are pleased to assist medical residents during their residencies. We can be proud that Saskatchewan is leading the way among the provinces by offering this short-term funding.”

“Our top priority is Saskatchewan’s post-secondary students,” Minister of Advanced Education, Employment and Immigration Rob Norris said. “I’m pleased that we have been able to develop a solution to meet the Federal legislative requirements of the student loan program while supporting Saskatchewan’s objectives regarding the recruitment and retention of physicians.”

“Postponing repayment will allow residents to continue to lay down roots in the province that they will hopefully one day practise within,” Vice President of the Professional Association of Interns and Residents of Saskatchewan Sue Sidhu said. “We are all extremely grateful that the province has taken action so quickly.”

I’m not really sure what to make of this announcement. Doctors need financial aid? Then again, the life of a resident can be miserable. Its not just the long hours, but the pay. To be sure, full fledged doctors aren’t exactly starving, and should be more than capable of handling their loans, even if they are  brushing up against, and sometimes exceeding, $100,000. But for the first few years after graduation, when they are doing their residency, med-school grads earn salaries closer to those with arts degrees. In Saskatchewan the starting wage is around $47,000/year. So after spending eight intense years in university training for one of the most in-demand professions, med school grads can expect the same, or similar, salary as the sociology student who spent three years taking multiple choice exams and who probably has loan payments a third the size.

So there is a credible argument for loan payments to be reduced. But postponing repayment, as residents are still earning a salary, might be too generous.

What is more aggravating is the fact that provincial governments so often market what is essentially a bribe to keep doctors, or anyone of any use, within its borders as a student aid program. Any tuition rebate scheme falls into this category. Presumably the province is having difficulty keeping doctors from leaving after they complete their training. What’s to stop them from leaving anyway? If Saskatchewan is losing doctors to better paying jurisdictions, the province could always raise the rates doctors are paid per appointment. But, then the government would no longer be helping young debt addled grads, but established doctors who will already be earning an upper level income. Alternately, doctors could be fitted with ankle bracelets to keep them from fleeing to Alberta.