Canada needs more physicians to serve rural and aboriginal communities, but the prospect of medical school debts may be discouraging promising students from those regions — who might eventually return home to practise — from even applying to med school, some students say.

A National Physician Survey, released this week, shows that more than one-third of medical students who responded to a 2007 questionnaire expected their debt load directly related to attending medical school to exceed $80,000. Among third- and fourth-year med students who replied, 5.5 per cent expect to have debts of more than $160,000.

“If you come from a lower socioeconomic status background, from rural Canada, from an aboriginal family, I think in a lot of those situations, that sticker shock really gets in the way,” said Shaheed Merani, a medical student at the University of Alberta.

“They have the drive, they have the intellectual capacity, they have the will,” he said. “It’s unfortunate if finances alone are what’s getting in their way.”

Dr. Jean-Pierre Martel, president of the Canadian Association of Interns and Residents, said that people from non-wealthy families are now less likely to enrol in medical schools.

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