Katherine Branson Essay Prize 2023 - Highly Commended


‘During the cost of living crisis, how can medical students best manage their money?’ - Aisha Jan

Whilst there may be more significant topics of discussion in Medicine, I choose to talk about the struggles of a medical student. Rarely are we given the opportunity to write about how we can improve the daily lives of our colleagues or discuss the financial challenges they may be facing. The aim of this essay is to consider the psychosocial importance of finances before giving practical advice to the financially struggling student.

The cost-of-living crises is defined by an institute for the UK Government as ‘the fall in ‘real’ disposable incomes (that is, adjusted for inflation and after taxes and benefits) that the UK has experienced since late 2021’ (Institute for Government, 2022). In essence, this means the cost of everyday items such as groceries and bills are rising faster than the incomes of the average household (Webster & Neal, 2022). This can result in our physiological and safety needs not being met according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs represented by the pyramid in Figure 1.


Figure 1 – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Mcleod, 2007)

Abraham Maslow was an American Psychologist who stated the needs lower down in the pyramid must be satisfied before individuals can attain the needs higher up on the pyramid using his ‘Theory of Motivation’ (Numonjonovich & Zohidjon, 2022). At the top of the hierarchy is Self-Actualization which refers to the desire to achieve one’s full potential. For medical students, this means being the best future doctors we can be for our patients.

Self-Actualization can only be achieved if the physiological needs and safety needs are first met. Due to the cost-of-living crises, medical students are struggling to afford food and clothing. Their safety needs are also being threatened as students struggle to initially find accommodation and to then to sustain it as there is difficulty in upkeeping due to costs such as bills and other maintenance costs (Walsh, 2014).

The following practical tips will use the Hierarchy of Needs to ensure medical students physiological and safety needs are sustained.

Physiological Needs and Safety Needs

Future planning – Make a spreadsheet of your costs (and any incomes). This is essential in budgeting. You can use free money-management apps (Blackbullion, HyperJar etc.) which calculate costs for you and provide financial advice. Make use of free items available such as samples (Boots) or food waste reduction initiatives (Olio). Groceries at Supermarkets have reduced costs during certain times usually evening.

University – Please speak to the university if you have difficulty in having your basic needs met as they are your first port of call. Each university has an information hub where you can talk to staff for any problems including financial difficulties. Universities can provide hardship funds. These funds can have lengthy forms which usually include a breakdown of costs therefore it is best to calculate your costs before starting the form. Most universities have deadlines so make sure to start researching as soon as possible in order to meet these deadlines.

Scholarships and Awards – Another way of securing some funds is through scholarships. These can help immensely towards a number of costs including for food, accommodation or even tuition fees. Have a look through the scholarship database of your university. There will be plenty of scholarships however you will need to find the ones whose requirements you meet. Whilst majority of these will not request the money back, if you apply for an interest-free loan you will have to pay it back. The Royal Medical Benevolent fund has a list of charitable funds.

UK Specific bodies (SAAS (Scotland), Student Finance (England/Wales/Northern Island))- They provide funding so should be contacted by students to ensure you have full support available. The British Council have a guide for scholarships and financial support available to international students.

Food and water – Sometimes applications can take time and resources may not be available even for necessities. If you find yourself in this situation and cannot get help, please make use of food banks (Trussell Trust, Community One Stop Shop). These are situated throughout the UK. Universities may also provide donations of non-perishable foods (and toiletries) to students.

Shelter – Please ensure you apply for a council tax exemption form for non-university accommodation. Heating is a major source of bills so try to limit to only the room you are in and only when you are there. If you ever find yourself homeless, please get in touch with your university and housing charities (Shelter, Crisis, Centrepoint).

Sanitary products – Pads and tampons are available for students at universities.

Medical students need to have physiological and safety needs covered to achieve self-actualization and become the best possible physicians. This essay covered practical guidance in order to achieve those needs.






Institute for Government, 2022. Cost of living crisis. [Online]
Available at: https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/explainer/cost-living-crisis
[Accessed 19 12 2022].

Mcleod, S., 2007. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. [Online]
Available at: https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html
[Accessed 20 12 2022].

Numonjonovich, M. M. & Zohidjon, O. Z., 2022. Economic Development and the Role of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. International Scientific Research Journal, 3(7), pp. 5-10.

Walsh, K., 2014. Cost and value in medical education--what we can learn from the past. BMJ, 44(4), pp. 324-327.

Webster, P. & Neal, K., 2022. The ‘cost of living crisis’. Journal of Public Health, 44(3), pp. 475-476.

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