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    At medical schools, fewer apply but class sizes grow

    The number of applicants declines but enrollment rises, while some ethnic groups expand their presence, new data show. Overall demographic trends might be at work.

    Diverse pre-med students take notes during class

    An increasing number of students are attending medical school even as fewer students are applying, according to data released today by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) about the 2023-24 academic year.

    Although the number of applicants declined by 4.7% compared with the previous year, the number of first-year enrollees (matriculants) was up 1.2% and total enrollment increased 1.6%, the data show.

    In addition, the student bodies at medical schools continue to grow more diverse, but unevenly so among different ethnic groups. There were increases in new students from two historically underrepresented groups in medicine — Hispanic, Latino, or of Spanish Origin, and American Indian or Alaska Native — while the number of Black applicants declined and the number of Black matriculants remained flat.

    “It is heartening to see that enrollment at the nation’s medical schools continues to diversify,” Geoffrey Young, PhD, AAMC senior director of Transforming the Health Care Workforce, said in a press release. “There is still much more work to be done to ensure that the future physician workforce reflects our nation’s diversity.”

    Among the highlights from the data:

    Fewer students apply

    The reason for the 4.7% decline in applicants is unclear, but the change might reflect a return to the norm after the COVID-19 pandemic, when the number of applicants reached all-time highs. Except for anomalies during the pandemic, applicant totals have ranged from about 52,000 to 53,000 since 2015. For example:

    • 2015 — 52,549
    • 2017 — 51,680
    • 2020 — 53,030
    • 2021 — 62,443
    • 2022 — 55,189
    • 2023 — 52,577

    Note: These figures show the number of people who applied, not the number of total applications that were submitted. Many students apply to more than one school.

    Among the possible contributing factors to a leveling off in the number of applicants is that enrollment in undergraduate education has been declining for years. That leaves fewer students to apply for post-graduate education, such as medical school and law school. The number of people applying to law school has also fallen over the past two years, after spiking during the pandemic.

    More students enroll

    The reasons for the increase in first-year enrollees (now at 22,981) and total enrollment (now at 97,903) are not clear. Although new student enrollment increased at some schools for this academic year, it decreased at other schools. One contributing factor might be that two new medical schools enrolled their first matriculating classes in the current academic year. The University of Texas at Tyler School of Medicine enrolled 40 matriculants, and the College of Medicine at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, in California, enrolled 60.

    Diversity rises among some groups, stalls among others

    The diversity data for applicants, matriculants, and total enrollees is mixed. The figures, according to self-identified racial and ethnic groups:

    • American Indian or Alaska Native — applicants rose 3.6%, matriculants rose 14.7%, total enrollment rose 3.6%
    • Asian — applicants declined 1.3%, matriculants increased 3.6%, total enrollment increased 4.3%
    • Black or African American — applicants declined 4.3%, matriculants declined 0.1%, total enrollment rose 5.1%
    • Hispanic, Latino, or of Spanish Origin — applicants declined 2.3%, matriculants increased 4.5%, total enrollment increased 4.7%
    • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islanders — applicants rose 10.8%, matriculants fell 6.9%, total enrollment rose 2.4%
    • White — applicants declined 6.5%, matriculants declined 0.2%, total enrollment declined 0.5%

    “While we do not know the exact explanation for the decline in the number of applicants to medical school, it will not deter our continuing efforts to increase the number of diverse applicants and matriculants who will make up the future physician workforce,” David J. Skorton, MD, AAMC president and CEO, said in the press release. “Evidence shows that a more diverse workforce can improve health outcomes in our communities.”

    One important strategy is continuing to build pathway programs with K-12 schools to educate young students about careers in medicine and science, and connect them with people in those professions, Young added. “Hopefully that can increase their interest [in medical careers] and help to prepare them for the journey,” he said.

    For some recent historical context, since 2016:

    • The proportion of Black or African American matriculants rose from 8.4% to 10.0%
    • The proportion of Hispanic, Latino, or of Spanish Origin matriculants rose from 10.5% to 12.7%

    Women continue to expand their ranks

    In 2019, women for the first time comprised the majority of applicants, matriculants/first-time enrollees, and total enrollees. The latest figures show that their majority status continues. For the current academic year, women account for:

    • 56.6% of applicants (29,763)
    • 55.4% of matriculants (12,724)
    • 54.6% of total enrollment (53,422)

    Among the possible reasons, aside from women’s interest in medicine, is that more women than men enroll in and graduate from college, creating a larger pool of potential medical school applicants who are women.

    At the same time, the percentage of new medical students who are men has stabilized over the past two years, after declining for six years. This academic year saw a 1.0% increase (to 10,160) in the number of matriculants who are men. Last year’s numbers showed no percentage change.

    Also of note about this year’s new class of medical students:

    • Their median undergraduate GPA is 3.84.
    • They range in age from 18 to 62 years old, and include a greater number of students (709) over age 30 than in previous years.
    • They include 171 military veterans, an 11% increase over 2022-23.
    • They include 2,606 first generation college students, an increase of 2.5% over last year.