King’s College London Professor Alison While has called for medicine and other healthcare professional students in the UK to be required to work for a period of time in the National Health Service (NHS), in a comment piece published in the The Times.
Professor Alison While, listed on the King’s website as an “honorary professor”, sparked controversy with her comments. Professor While retired in 2014 but continues to hold the title of Emeritus professor, according to a profile on the Queen’s Nursing Institute website.
The letter, published October 28, 2021, included claims such as: “it seems that a significant proportion of those funded by the government (it costs around Â£250,000 to train each medical student) to become doctors do not enter the workforce”, and “perhaps medical and other healthcare professional education that is funded at the tax payer’s expense should require some obligation upon the recipients to work in the NHS for a period of time”.
Many doctors and medical students were quick to point out the lack of sources for the Â£250,000 claim, whilst others noted that estimates in that range include tuition fees and living expenses, which students then repay when they begin working after graduation. Many medical students graduate with over Â£80,000 of student debt, and as such the burden of debt associated with medical degrees rests firmly on the shoulders of students rather than the government.
Furthermore, many social media users believe the taxpayer-funded training Professor While referred to was the foundation programme, in which newly qualified doctors work for two years, developing their clinical and medical skills before undertaking additional, more specialised training. As such, this training is a requirement for medical students wishing to work anywhere in the UK, and involves notoriously low financial recompense for the hours foundation year doctors are expected to work.
Professor While’s background is in nursing rather than medicine, sparking further outrage from several medics online. One medical student tweeted to King’s College London: “one of your professors is using her professorship to bolster her credentials while making these bold claims”. Another Twitter user stated that Professor While has co-authored papers exploring retention and burn-out in nurses, and therefore she “should be well versed on the pressures in community medical disciplines”.
Roar reached out to Professor Alison While for comment and she replied that she was unaware of any controversy due to a lack of social media presence. She went on to say: “I believe that the NHS should recruit, develop and retain its own workforce”.
The concept of being required to work for a certain organisation for a period of time in return for funding for education or training is sometimes known as ‘bonded labour’, as the individual is bonded to that organisation for the agreed-upon time period. It has been a controversial topic within the UK healthcare community for many years. Some see it as a good way to boost NHS staffing numbers, whilst others believe it is unfair given the nature of student loans, and for foreign students perhaps wanting to return home after finishing their degree and initial training.