Saturday, 19 May 2012

Student Debt

Top news story on the BBC today was student debt who ran with the headline "Debt 'putting off' medical students, BMA warns" (

Let me do the maths for you.
Every medical course at a British Universities will cost £9,000 per year for tuition fees by next year (September 2012). A medical course, for an undergraduate who has the correct A-levels and does not need to do a Foundation year, can last either 5 or 6 years depending on whether an intercalated degree is undertaken.

The NHS provide financial support whereby "from year five onwards, tuition fees will be paid by the NHS Student Bursary Scheme" (, so year five and year six of the degree will be paid for. Therefore in terms of tuition fees it will be £36,000 for the course. Of course the living costs at different universities varies so you could be looking at vast differences; for example London and Aberystwyth. Lets say a general £500-£600 per month which is £6000-£7200 per year.

Tuition: £36,000
Expenditure (Accommodation and Food):£36,000-£43,200 (6 years) OR £30,000-£36,000 (5 years)
Total Cost (in the region of) £75,600 (6 years) OR £69,000 (5 years)

From these figures (don't quote me on the expenditure figures because they depend entirely on location and the student lifestyle) we can see that it is indeed very expensive to attend medical school; but I wouldn't let it put you off and you will see why.

1. I was informed on a conference I attended that it costs around a £250,000 to put a student through medical school so the cost payed for tuition is not even 15% of the total cost of the degree.
2. If you want to become a doctor then surely there is nothing that will stop you doing what you most want to do in your life and inevitably is what you will spend the rest of your life doing.
3. When you pay back your student loan, even though it is a huge amount of money and you may be paying it back for a lot of your working life, they won't take so much away that you cannot live or sustain yourself. They also don't start taking money out of your pay until you reach a threshold of £21,000 and if you don't end up paying it off it is wiped at the age of 68.

But if your not convinced and you don't think it is right to be paying so much then there are other options. You could study abroad where the fees are less, for example Holland or other European countries but be aware that the British student loan companies do not provide loans for students studying abroad. But if you don't fancy that then you can do a different course such as a Biomedical degree that you can do Medicine afterwards/not at all. But also be aware that student loan companies do not provide loans for your second degree.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Dissolvable Polymers

These sorts of polymers have become extremely useful in hospitals for washing soiled linen and hospital clothing. When linen is replaced from beds in hospitals there is an issue for the cleaners/nurses because they have to touch the linen and replace it whilst putting the linen out of patient contact due to risks of infection or illness. It then needs to be sent down to the washing rooms to be cleaned, but how can you stop so many people coming into contact with it?

So, hospital laundry bags are now made out of dissolvable polymers; the cleaner/nurse can put the soiled clothes/linen into a laundry bag straight away, put it in a big trolley bin and then close it, thus protecting the patients from infection. When the trolley gets to the laundry room the bags can be removed, thrown straight into the washing machine and dissolved, coming out with clean linen. This means that anyone who comes into contact with the bag has a much reduced risk of infection.

The plastic used in the bags is "poly(ethenol), made from another plastic, poly(ethyl ethanoate), by the process of ester exchange" (

Polymers are made up of hundreds of monomers, assembled by repeating units, but for the conversion of monomers into repeating units there are double bonds that must be broken to join the units together in a chain. For example, below left ( is an image of the repeating unit in poly(ethenol) (n represents a huge number) but the monomer (that produces the repeating unit) is ethanal, an aldehyde containing with carbonyl functional group or more specifically ethenol (below right;

The mechanism of turning the ethanal into the repeating unit and thus the polymer poly(ethenol) is a complicated one which involves turning ethanal (above) into ethenol (above) which as can be observed above is "unstable; then made (into poly(ethenol)) though ester exchange rather than polymerisation" ( Polymerisation is the usual mechanism for making polymers.

The reason why the polymer is able to dissolve in water is due to the hydrogen bonding present in water and poly(ethenol); which occurs when hydrogen is bonded covalently to a highly electronegative element compared to itself, such as Oxygen, and also, when Hydrogen has a lone pair to align with such as one of the two lone pairs on the Oxygen atom in water (as below-
water dot formula

So the "-OH group on poly(ethenol) can interact with the -OH group in water" (, form hydrogen bonds, and therefore water dissolves poly(ethenol). But as can be observed in the table at the bottom of (, the solubility of the polymer depends on "the percentage of ester groups which have been removed". But all of the figures show that the polymer is highly soluble in water.

Another use of the dissolvable polymer is in "surgical stitching; this means that the stitches don’t have to be removed" (