The average fifth-year medical student is more than £17,000 in debt, according to the British Medical Association's annual survey of student finance.
This is only slightly less than the basic annual salary for a first-year junior doctor.
The BMA warned that fear of debt was already hitting academic choices. A third of students who opted not to take an extra year to study a subject of interest, commonly encouraged in medical education, had done so for financial reasons.
Leigh Bissett, chairman of the BMA's medical students committee, said:
"Fear of debt has the greatest impact on people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The government says it wants to get more of these students into medical school but, if it is serious, it needs to abandon tuition fees."
Just over 1,300 students responded to the BMA questionnaire sent out in March. The average amount owed was £11,794 - an increase of 8 per cent over last year. Average first-year debt was £5,123, and average fifth-year debt was £17,024. One in six respondents had debts of more than £20,000. The highest total recorded debt was £49,500 - a 16 per cent increase over last year.
TRAINEE DOCTOR WORKS NIGHTS TO HELP PAY WAY
Charlotte Lewis has just begun the second year of a five-year medical degree at Sheffield University, but she already anticipates having a Pounds 50,000 debt on graduation.
Although she has worked in the ambulance service for the past three years, this has done little to help.
"I went to my local comprehensive and always wanted to be a doctor," she said. "But I just wasn't ready for it at 18."
Ms Lewis has debts of £5,000 from her first degree, which was in human biology. She plans to take out the full student loan of £4,000 for each year of her degree, and a career-development loan of £5,000 a year.
She earns £600 a month working nights for the ambulance service. "I won't be able to do this when I start working on the wards," she said.
She pays the maximum tuition fee and has no financial support from her parents. "The only way I can face the thought of a debt of £50,000 is that, as a doctor, I will have a job for life," she said.