Medical students should be given “forgivable loans”, with their debts repaid if they work for the NHS, doctors said today.
Poor students are being put off applying to medical school because they face graduating with average debts of £37,000, or £57,000 if they study in London, they said.
Figures show that just 13% of medical students come from lower socio-economic groups.
Speaking ahead of a motion on the issue at the British Medical Association (BMA) conference in Brighton, students said those wanting to study medicine should have their loans paid off over time if they commit to working in the NHS.
One scenario could see 10% of the loans value paid off for each year of NHS service.
Other proposals could mean writing off the entire debt in one go, or part of the debt, leaving students to pay the rest.
Tom Foley, 28, from Newcastle, who is proposing the motion, said students accepted their five-year courses could not be free.
But he said poorer students were “afraid to take the risk” with the huge amounts of debt involved.
Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA, said: “There are often barriers to students from disadvantaged backgrounds getting into medical school in terms of educational ones, without putting a whole range of financial barriers in place.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “The Department is currently examining the system of support for medical students, as well as students in other healthcare-related disciplines.”