Doctors of the Night: Will Med Students with Debt Consider Prostitution?

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Desperate times often call for desperate measures, and for students with mounting education debt, that apparently means selling themselves.

In the journal Student BMJ, Jodi Dixon, a medical student in her final year at the University of Birmingham in England, reports on the increasing number of undergraduate students who are turning to prostitution to make money. She cautions that the medical profession is ill prepared to address the trend if it were to spread to would-be doctors.

In a 2010 study, more than a quarter of students at a London university said they knew of a fellow student who had worked in the sex industry and prostitution was the third most common type of sex work (after pole or lap dancing and stripping). About 10% of the undergraduates reported knowing a student who had worked as a prostitute, and 93% said the reason was likely money.

That’s troubling, since medical students stay in school longer to complete their education and rack up more than five times as much debt as undergraduates do. Doctors may be held to a higher standard of social conduct, but Dixon notes that many professional medical organizations, not to mention hospitals, do not specifically address prostitution, although they do require physicians to act with integrity and in a manner befitting the trust they receive from their patients.

(MORE: Can Doctors Have Work-Life Balance? Medical Students Discuss)

The issue, says Dixon, is less about whether it’s acceptable for doctors to take up prostitution and more about what’s driving students to consider such desperate behavior: ever higher tuition and education costs. As an owner of a massage parlor in Leeds told the BBC World Service: “In my day, people went to university in order to avoid this kind of life, but now they lead this kind of life in order to go to university.” People in the healing profession shouldn’t have to become part of the world’s oldest profession in order to help others.

Alice Park is a writer at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @aliceparkny. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.