US Medical School Enrollment Reaches Record High

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Medical school enrollment in 2008 increased by 1.6% over last year, resulting in a record-high 17,759 first-year medical students, with the number of Latino students increasing by 10%, according to a study by the Association of American Medical Colleges, Bloomberg reports. The study found that the total number of applicants reached 42,315 and the nearly 32,000 first-time applicants also was a record high. According to the study, 11 U.S. medical schools increased enrollment by at least 10% from last year (Staley, Bloomberg, 10/21). Since 2003, first-year enrollment has increased by 10% or more in 49 U.S. medical schools, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Another 18 medical schools have increased by at least 5%.

Darrell Kirch, AAMC's president and CEO, attributes the growth to a higher capacity at medical schools and the establishment of new branch campuses across the country (Park, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 10/22). Dan Scheirer, associate dean at Duke University's Trinity College, said the medical profession seems attractive to potential applicants because of depictions in popular culture, such as the television shows "House" and "Grey's Anatomy."

In addition, Scheirer said the Iraq war and the Sept. 11 attacks have shaped applicants' world view. Applicants "are in a world that is changing and scary and unstable and they see medicine as a stable career," Scheirer said, adding, "It is a way of working out anxiety and doing something for the benefit of mankind" (Bloomberg, 10/21).

Addressing a Looming Shortage


The Democrat-Gazette reports that although record enrollment is positive, many health officials are concerned about meeting the heavier demand caused by a growing population and the loss of physicians to retirement. The American Medical Association projects a nationwide physician shortage of between 51,000 and 228,000 by 2020 (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 10/22). In response, AAMC has called for a 30% increase in medical school enrollment over the 2002 level to more than 21,000 first-year medical students by 2015. To date, the number of first-year medical students has increased by 8%, and planned increases would raise the number of first-year medical students by 17%, according to Edward Salsberg, director of AAMC's Center for Workforce Studies. "It is unclear whether we will make the 30% by 2015," Salsberg said (Bloomberg, 10/21).

"I would say we're on track, but we're certainly not there," Kirch said. Kirch noted that the number of medical school applications leveled off for the first time after five consecutive years of rising. "There are still more than two applicants for every available seat in medical school," Kirch said (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 10/22). Kirch added that existing medical schools must expand and new medical schools must be created to meet the demand (Bloomberg, 10/21).

Richard Wheeler, executive associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said the number of residency positions must increase before the number of physicians can rise to meet demand (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 10/22).

Racial, Ethnic Diversity

AAMC also has set goals to increase racial and ethnic diversity in medical schools. According to a public statement released by AAMC, blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans currently make up 6% of practicing doctors. AAMC reports that since 2002 black male medical school applicants have increased by 9.2%, while enrollment by black males increased by 5.3%. AAMC also found that only 1,810, or 4.3%, of medical-school applicants were non-U.S. citizens, while 326, or 1.8%, were not permanent U.S. citizens (Bloomberg, 10/21).

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