Debt-ridden medical students are being tempted to abandon a career in health for jobs in the City, student leaders are warning.
The British Medical Association is worried that the problem could escalate as the last students to receive a grant leave the system.
Investment banks are interested in hiring medical students for their science and healthcare teams. They also value the increased maturity and discipline of such students.
"The financial pressure is going to make a bank look more attractive, with an instant high salary meaning the ability to pay off debts," a BMA spokesman said.
At least one student union has been asked by City firms to provide names of medical students, while consultancy firms are said to be offering six-figure salaries to newly qualified doctors.
Medical student Sarah Mc-Mahon said: "Several of my friends, who are set to graduate with debts of £20,000 to £30,000, have already been offered lucrative careers in the City.
"The government's funding policy means that working for the National Health Service will soon be an option most cannot afford."
Scott Rice, president of the University of London Union, said that levels of debt and demanding working conditions for junior doctors were making alternative careers more attractive.
"You cannot get a part-time job when you are a clinical student and you are on campus for 46 weeks a year," he said. "After five to six years, medics might think, 'Should I go on to do 72-hour weeks for pathetic pay when all my friends are working in the City?'" Nikunj Shah, school club president at St George's Hospital Medical School, said: "Students can incur debts of up to £25,000 before they leave medical school.
"The advantage of a career in medicine is that you are almost guaranteed a job... the City is a highly competitive market."
Owain James, president of the National Union of Students, said: "The NUS estimates debt at around £4,000 per year of study. For medical students who study for a minimum of five years, and who cannot undertake paid work, this is proving even more costly and damaging than for the rest of the student population."
Fears are also growing that architecture students, who study for five years, will be increasingly hard to recruit and retain due to the levels of debt they build up.
Nick Hayhurst, a student representative on the council of the Royal Institute of British Architects, recently wrote a report that says 93 per cent of architecture students are in debt, compared to 75 per cent of the national student population.
• Government plans to boost the number of doctors are doomed because of a lack of teaching staff, the British Medical Association's annual conference heard, writes Caroline Davis.
The number of medical students is set to increase by 2,000 between 1998 and 2003. Yet a quarter of medical professorial posts funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England remain vacant, while more than 300 lecturer posts remain unfilled. Increased workloads are blamed.