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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 August 2005, 10:49 GMT 11:49 UK
Life as an unemployed doctor
As many as 2,000 junior doctors have failed to find hospital jobs in the latest round of NHS recruiting.

The British Medical Association is blaming a shortage of training posts and increased competition from foreign doctors.

One junior doctor speaks about what it is like to face an uncertain future after years of studying.

Melissa Marlow

After spending 10 years studying to be a doctor, racking up 50,000 of debt in the process, Melissa Marlow did not expect to be struggling to find a job.

The 30-year-old medic has already spent two years as a junior doctor, but in the last round of recruitment - most jobs are six-month contracts - she failed to secure a post despite applying for more than 50 posts.

The Bristol-based doctor, who is now going to start looking for locum work, which does not count towards her training to become a senior doctor, said: "It really rocks your confidence.

"It is not nice getting knock backs and it really makes you question whether you should continue."

'Ambition'

But Dr Marlow, who has wanted to be a doctor ever since her grandfather died of cancer when she was 11, said: "It was always my ambition to become a doctor and it is probably still my best option to pay back the debts. We will have to see."

She accumulated the debt while completing a degree in biology at King's College London, before doing her medical training at St George's Hospital in south London.

"It is not easy becoming a doctor and it is frustrating when you then can't get a job. I applied to so many places, but had no luck.

What we must remember is that these junior doctors are the consultants and GPs of tomorrow
Dr Simon Eccles, of the BMA

"I just hope I can get something sorted out next year."

While it may seem unbelievable to many that Ms Marlow has struggled to get a job when hundreds of thousands of people are waiting for operations and the NHS is crying out for consultants and GPs, her case is far from unique.

The BMA has been warning for months that junior doctors were facing a fight to get jobs.

There are 49,000 junior doctors employed on three grades in the NHS.

Over recent years, the numbers graduating from medical school has risen to 5,300 a year - at the cost of 237,000 per graduate - and there has been a surge in the number of doctors applying from abroad, without a similar rise in posts.

'Bad planning'

Dr Simon Eccles, chairman of the BMA's junior doctors committee, said the problem was with the middle grade - senior house officer (SHO).

"Doctors spend a year on the first grade but can spend up to five as a SHO and it is here the system is clogging up. It is a case of bad planning.

"But what we must remember is that these junior doctors are the consultants and GPs of tomorrow."

Dr Eccles said the government should increase the number of junior doctors on the final grade - specialist registrars - to free up places.

But the Department of Health has maintained the problem is not as widespread as the BMA claimed.

A spokeswoman said stories such as Ms Marlow's always cropped up at this time of year - contracts traditionally start in August and February.

"There is simply no question of hundreds of doctors being 'on the dole'.

"Entry into the SHO grade is competitive and there has always been healthy competition for SHO posts. But we are working with the NHS to ensure that our junior doctors find training posts."


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