Updated: Jul 11
When you've completed your first 4 years of medical school, the UK Student Loans Company (SLC) does not need to pay your tuition fees and instead, NHS Bursary takes over (who pays your tuition fees and some of your living costs without you having to pay it back as debt).
This comes into effect from the 5th year of your course and beyond (including intercalated years). The NHS bursary covers up to £9250 of tuition fees and provides a non-means-tested grant of £1000 for the living costs of ALL students. In addition, some students (e.g., those from lower-income backgrounds) are eligible for a small maintenance loan (means-tested).
Furthermore, either of these grants can be supplemented with a reduced maintenance loan you can apply for from Student Finance England (SFE). The maximum amount of NHS bursary and student loan that UK medical students can receive varies depending on various factors, such as the year of their course, their household income, and their living arrangements.
Here is a brief breakdown of the NHS Bursary (full details can be found in my other blog post):
What's the maximum you can get from NHS Bursary? (figures from this academic year: 2022/23)
Students at university in London, living away from home
Students at university outside of London, living away from home
Students living with parents (any area)
Up to £3,191
Up to £2,643
Up to £2,207
Total per year
What's the reduced maintenance loan you can get from Student Finance England if you also receive an NHS bursary?
Medical students can apply for a reduced maintenance loan to supplement their NHS Bursary. This is non-income assessed and repayable. The rates are £3,558, or £2,724 (in final year) living away from home or £1,902 or £1,443 (in final year) living at home rate. It's important to be aware that in your final year, student loan drastically decreases compared to other years because it usually covers the breaks between each year, but you're no longer entitled to it once your course has ended.
It's important to note that if you’re eligible to apply for NHS bursaries that DON'T depend on household income (e.g. the tuition fee cover and the £1000 grant), you cannot apply for these from Student Finance.
Additionally, you may be eligible for funding through scholarships, grants, or bursaries from your university or external organisations (check out my ebook if you don't know where to start). I believe taking time to apply for extra funding, strict budgeting, along with any part-time or flexible work you can do, are crucial to surviving the last few years.
Living off of an NHS bursary as a medical student in the UK can be challenging, but with careful budgeting and planning, it is possible to make it work. Here are some tips that have helped me:
PLAN AHEAD - create a budget and have a funding tracker
It's important to create a budget and stick to it. List all your necessary expenses such as rent, utilities, groceries, and transportation costs. Consider any additional expenses such as textbooks or exam fees. Note down exactly how much financial support you're getting altogether so you know how much money you have to live on. I also note down the exact dates that student finance / NHS bursary should be paid into my account so I know how I should manage my money each quarter.
P.S. I like to look at a yearly overview of my money and break it down by quarters. I'm not a monthly budget type of person because it can be hard to forecast exactly what might happen but I know trends when I spend more such as around Christmas and my birthday etc.
Apply for additional funding and track your applications
Look for additional funding sources, such as scholarships, grants, or bursaries from your university or external organisations. I use Notion to track my spending and any funding (including scholarships, grants, etc.) I've applied for (and been approved for) so I know exactly what I'm working with. A version of my funding tracker can be found here. If you are really struggling, medical student-specific hardship funds include:
Your university's hardship funding or Student Support funds (google these!)
BMA Charities (you can see what you're eligible for after doing an online assessment)
The Leathersellers' Company Charitable Fund: up to £5,000 a year to support study on a full-time degree, open to both UK and non-UK citizens.
The Victoria Foundation: grants for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to help purchase books, equipment, electives, and medical instruments.
Make sure you get your travel & accommodation to placement reimbursed (if applicable)
You may be entitled to have some of the additional costs of journeys between your normal term-time accommodation and your practice placement site reimbursed if you are a means-tested NHS bursary recipient. In addition, if you have to stay in temporary accommodation away from your normal term-time accommodation in order to attend your placement, you may also be able to receive reimbursement for these costs up to a set maximum rate (£25/night if staying with a friend/non-commercial accommodation and £55/night for commercial accommodation). Read more in the TDAE guide and video.
Consider part-time work
You may want to consider part-time work if you have the time and energy to do so. Many medical students work part-time to help supplement their income. Find out more about flexible jobs I recommend/have done here.
These are not the years to allow lifestyle creep to happen to keep up with peers who may be working full-time jobs and have been out of university for a couple of years now. It's difficult but try NOT to compare yourself and cut back on unnecessary expenses, such as eating out or buying expensive clothes. Look for ways to save money, such as buying generic brands, cooking meals at home, and using public transportation. Splurge when you feel it's necessary (I save for holidays for my mental health).
Take advantage of student discounts
Many shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues offer student discounts. Take advantage of these to help stretch your budget. I never pay full price for anything unless I've checked whether I'm eligible for a discount first.
Use cashback and reward programs
Many banks and credit cards offer cashback and reward programs. Make sure you take advantage of these to save money on your purchases. As a personal favourite (not an ad), I've earned hundreds of cash-back transfers to my account using Top Cashback. There is a browser add-in you can download so you get an alert if you're shopping on a site that gives you cashback. Cannot recommend enough! I also am a loyalty card member for pretty much every coffee shop (Costa, Nero, Starbucks...) and I get a lot of free coffees / they give you free treats on your birthday. I pay for next-day delivery in bulk for websites I'm a frequent buyer from - they save you a lot in the long term.
Invest in a savings account and ISA
Open a HIGH-YIELD savings account (i.e. any savings account with >3% interest) and start saving money regularly. This will allow you to earn interest on your savings and compound your savings over time. ISAs are a great way to generate tax-free income and I talk more about them in a blog post on how I managed my finances during my gap year.
Avoid credit card debt
I use credit cards to cover some of my monthly costs and to pay for holidays whilst building my credit score. Be cautious when using credit cards, as high-interest rates can lead to debt - don't spend more than you have. Always pay your credit card bills in full and on time to avoid extra fees and interest charges. I talk more about them in the blog post linked above.
Living off of an NHS bursary as a medical student in the UK requires discipline and careful planning, but with the strategies and living within your means, it is possible (although unnecessarily difficult) to make it work. Remember to be disciplined, plan ahead, prioritise your necessary expenses AND ensure you are getting the reimbursements you're eligible for to make the most of your budget. unnecessarily
It is also hopeful news that the NHS Bursary is under review due to the cost of living crisis. As many of us know, the bursary barely covers rent for most students... let alone necessities and it really difficult for us to work alongside the pressures that come with our final years of medical school. The NHS Bursary for the 2023/24 academic year is now open (deadline: 31 May 2023) and I do not see a dramatic increase in funding but I recommend following the #LiveableNHSBursary campaign for more.