Journal of Primary Health Care Journal of Primary Health Care Society
Journal of The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners
RESEARCH ARTICLE (Open Access)

Influence of student debt on health career location and specialty

Steven Ling 1 , Robert Jacobs 2 , Rhys Ponton 3 , Julia Slark 4 , Antonia Verstappen 5 , Craig S. Webster 6 , Phillippa Poole 7
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland, New Zealand

2 School of Optometry and Vision Science, University of Auckland, New Zealand

3 School of Pharmacy, University of Auckland, New Zealand

4 School of Nursing, University of Auckland, New Zealand

5 Centre for Medical and Health Sciences Education, University of Auckland, New Zealand

6 Centre for Medical and Health Sciences Education and Department of Anaesthesiology, University of Auckland, New Zealand

7 Department of Medicine, University of Auckland, New Zealand

Correspondence to: Phillippa Poole, Room 12-073D, Support Building, Auckland Hospital, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, The University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland Mail Centre, Auckland 1142, New Zealand. Email: p.poole@auckland.ac.nz

Journal of Primary Health Care - https://doi.org/10.1071/HC17052
Published online: 2 February 2018

Journal Compilation © Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners 2018.
This is an open access article licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Abstract

INTRODUCTION: In New Zealand (NZ), there are shortages of health professionals in rural areas and in primary care.

AIM: This study aims to examine the association of student debt levels of medical, nursing, pharmacy and optometry students with: (1) preferred geographical location of practice, specifically preference to work in urban vs. rural areas; and (2) preferred career specialties, specifically interest in primary health care.

METHODS: Medical, nursing, pharmacy and optometry students completed a questionnaire at graduation that included questions about levels of New Zealand Government Student Loan debt and preferences regarding location of practice and career specialty. In an additional survey, medical students were asked to self-rate the effect of financial factors on their career choices.

RESULTS: Debt patterns varied across programmes. Medical and pharmacy students with high debt were significantly more likely than students with low debt to prefer rural over urban practice (P = 0.003). There was no difference in level of interest in a primary care specialty by debt level for any programme. Medical students reported little influence of debt on career choice, although students with high debt levels were less concerned over career financial prospects than students with lower levels of debt.

DISCUSSION: Current levels of student debt do not deter students from planning a career in rural or primary care settings. Somewhat surprisingly, higher levels of debt are associated with greater rural practice intentions for medical and pharmacy students, although the underlying reasons are uncertain.

KEYWORDS: Student debt; rural practice; career preference; primary care; health professional


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