Medical School Applicants Positive Growth, Particularly Among Minorities

Armen Hareyan's picture
Medical Books

One of America’s most aspired-to professions, the medical doctor's profession, has seen significant ups and downs over the last decade. While one negative trend appears to have finally been arrested, a new development is creating cause for concern.

On the positive side, medical school application data from 2007 demonstrated a continued growth in both applications and acceptances, with some of the greatest increases occurring within two importance subcategories, black and Hispanic males. On the negative, a recent survey published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals an alarming decreased interest among current medical school students in a career focused on a primary care specialty.

Five Year Trend
Data published by the Association of American Medical Colleges late last year revealed more than 42,315 applications to medical school, an 8.2% increase over the number from 2006. The fifth straight year of increased applications yielded more than 17,700 acceptances, an increase of 2.3% over the number from 2006.

That data was continued good news for the American public though the number of applicants still trails that of both 1996 and 1997. However, the fifth straight year of increased acceptances has seemingly stemmed the alarming trend from 1996-2002. During that time frame, applications dropped each and every year, from more than 46,000 in 1996 to under 34,000 in 2002 (a decrease of nearly 30%).

In addition to the general growth trend, the AAMC data revealed that the number of applications by black and Hispanic males increased by 9.2 percent in 2007. The number of black men accepted and enrolled in med schools increased by 5.3 percent. Currently minorities account for about 6 percent of practicing U.S. physicians.

Additional Trends
A February post at HarvardDocs also revealed two very interesting trends. The first intriguing set of statistics related to the percentage of re-applicants gaining acceptance. The second centered upon the male-female ratio of applicants.

Re-application is a phrase used to describe medical school aspirants who were not admitted the first time they applied to school. According to HarvardDocs, 48% of those who had applied only once were accepted. However, those who were applying a second time were accepted at a rate of 39%, a number surprisingly close to those of first time applicants.

Such a rate provides a clear implication that a number of those who were not accepted the first time spent time improving those areas of their application that kept them from being accepted initially. Though the number of re-applicants remains small in total, it is clear that most who reapply do not simply fill out an additional application.


The second item noted at HarvardDocs is the continued growth of female applicants. The number of male enrollees exceeded that of females in 2002 by more than 4,000. That number shrunk to 2,000 in 2007. HarvardDocs quotes AAMC projections as indicating that the number of applications from women will exceed those of men by 2015. Shortly thereafter, enrollment ratios will show a similar trend.

One Major Concern Developing
While the applicant pool is showing steady growth, a recent survey of 1200 fourth-year medical students revealed that just two percent planned to work in primary care internal medicine.

Combined with the significant decrease in medical graduates from 1996-2002, that small percentage has experts concerned about a potential shortfall in what used to be considered the backbone of the American medical system.

As a comparison, in 1990, nine percent of those students surveyed indicated an interest in internal medicine.

One concern appears to be the enormous debt that comes with completing medical school. With some students carrying as much as $150,000 in overall debt, more and more medical students appear to be choosing more lucrative options.

Other factors cited for the decline in interest included: the overall salary gap, paperwork, the challenges of dealing with insurance companies, the demands of the chronically sick and the need to bring work home.

All total, some 2,600 fewer U.S. doctors were training in primary care specialties in 2007 as compared with 2002. However, foreign medical school graduates have helped take up some of the slack. During the same time frame, the number of foreign graduates pursuing primary care specialties increased by nearly 3,300.

While much of the current dialogue is focused simply on providing health care for all citizens, the alarming decrease in those interested in primary care specialties means that an even more sophisticated discussion of the medical profession is warranted.

Reported by Open Education and distributed by Creative Commons.