For the first time in history, there are more women entering U.S. medical schools than men, according to new data released by the AAMC.
The 2017 report on applicants, matriculants, and enrollment shows that women slightly edged out men, making up 50.7% of 21,338 incoming medical students in the current academic year compared with 49.8% in 2016. Viewed over two years, the numbers of women entering medical school rose by 9.6%, an increase that is noteworthy in a year when women’s voices in the workforce are gaining more attention.
Viewed over two years, the numbers of women entering medical school rose by 9.6%, an increase that is noteworthy in a year when women’s voices in the workforce are gaining more attention.
The report also shows that efforts to diversify the student body at medical schools around the country are beginning to make a difference. From 2015 to 2017, the number of black or African American students enrolled in the entering class increased by 12.6%, and the number of first-year students who were Hispanic, Latino, or of Spanish origin rose by 15.4%.
“We are very encouraged by the growing number of women enrolling in U.S. medical schools,” said Darrell G. Kirch, MD, AAMC president and CEO. “This year’s matriculating class demonstrates that medicine is an increasingly attractive career for women and that medical schools are creating an inclusive environment. While we have much more work to do to attain broader diversity among our students, faculty, and leadership, this is a notable milestone.”
Are we training enough doctors?
The total number of first-year students at medical schools in the country increased by 1.5% this year. Since 2002, medical school applicant numbers have grown more than 50%, and nearly 30% more students are entering medical school today than 15 years ago. At the same time, 2.6% fewer people applied to medical schools this year compared with 2016, the largest decline in 15 years.
“Medical schools need to ask, ‘Is our institutional learning environment welcoming and inclusive to groups underrepresented in medicine? Is it an environment that not only helps them to survive, but to thrive?’”
David Acosta, MD
Association of American Medical Colleges
Kirch cautioned that expanding medical school enrollment alone will not be enough to address the estimated shortage of between 40,800 and 104,900 physicians by 2030, according to a study commissioned by the AAMC that was released earlier in 2017. Physicians of the future will face increased demands because of a growing and aging population, the study concluded. “For an increase in the supply of practicing physicians, Congress must lift the cap on federal support for medical residency positions that it enacted 20 years ago,” Kirch said.
Efforts to ensure a qualified physician workforce for the future continue. Over the last 10 years, 22 new medical schools opened, including 2 last year—one at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the other at Washington State University. Total enrollment at all medical schools stands at 89,904 students.
An ongoing focus on diversity
The AAMC’s annual enrollment report revealed that diversity continues to be a challenge at U.S. medical schools. Medical schools need to recognize both numbers and percentages when addressing diversity, says David Acosta, MD, chief diversity and inclusion officer at the AAMC.
“It might seem like a high percentage of minority applicants are accepted, for example, but when you drill down the numbers of specific minority applicants, the shortage of American Indian/Alaskan Natives and black male medical school applicants is staggering," Acosta says.
Increasing diversity in the physician workforce remains a key strategy for addressing public health needs. “Research shows that minority students are up to three times more likely to practice in a community made up of individuals from the same race or ethnicity and to practice in medically underserved areas,” Acosta notes, adding that the learning environment, patient outcomes, and research labs benefit from diversity as well.
To boost next year’s minority application and enrollment numbers, Acosta recommends that medical schools ask “Where in the pipeline is it starting to leak?” and work in partnership with local communities, having them participate in the process of identifying future innovative strategies.
According to Acosta, “Medical schools need to ask, ‘Is our institutional learning environment welcoming and inclusive to groups underrepresented in medicine? Is it an environment that not only helps them to survive, but to thrive?’” It is important to identify medical schools that are doing this well, he adds, and encourage them to share their promising practices.