The number of first-year students in U.S. medical schools increased by 1.7% in the 2020 academic year, according to data released today by the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges).
While the increase in students in the 2020 entering medical school class was modest, the number of students applying to medical school for the upcoming 2021 academic year shows substantial growth, up by approximately 18% from the same time last year.
“The increased interest in medicine comes at a crucial moment. Even before COVID-19, the United States was facing a significant projected shortage of physicians,” said David J. Skorton, MD, AAMC president and CEO. “The pandemic is spotlighting the extraordinary services that physicians provide on the front lines. It’s heartening to see that more students want to pursue a career in medicine in order to serve their communities and make a difference.”
Changes from 2019 to 2020 academic years
Diversity of the 2020 entering medical school class
Although there were declines or little growth in the number of applicants from most underrepresented groups this year, the data shows that the nation’s medical schools continue to make gradual gains in enrolling more racially and ethnically diverse classes.
In 2020, the total number of first-year students identifying as Black or African American, Hispanic, Latino, or of Spanish origin, and American Indian or Alaska Native increased. However, this growth was concentrated at a small number of medical schools, reflecting the important contributions historically Black colleges and universities and Hispanic-serving institutions make to the diversity of the physician workforce. Additional highlights include:
- The number of Black or African American first-year students increased by 10.5%, to 2,117 nationwide. Black or African American students made up 9.5% of matriculants (first-year students) in 2020, up from 8.8% last year.
- Of particular note are the increases among Black or African American men. First-year students from this group increased 12.2%, and total enrollment grew 6.2%.
- First-year students of Hispanic, Latino, or of Spanish origin increased 8.6%, to 2,678.
- American Indian or Alaska Native first-year students rose 7.8%, to 248.
“We’re moving slowly in the right direction with more students from underrepresented groups entering medical school, but there is still much work to be done across academic medicine to ensure our diverse nation is reflected in a diverse physician workforce,” Skorton said. “Our goal is to keep increasing the number of students from underrepresented groups until they are no longer underrepresented in medicine.”
The new AAMC strategic plan includes an action plan to significantly increase the number of diverse medical school applicants and first-year students in the coming years.
In 2020, women made up 53.4% of applicants, 53.6% of matriculants, and 51.5% of total enrollment. This is the second year in a row that women made up the majority of all three groups, and the proportion of women in all three categories has increased annually in recent years. Among first-year students in 2020, the number of women increased and the number of men declined, continuing a five-year trend.
Addressing the projected physician shortage
In 2006, the AAMC called on medical schools to increase capacity to meet a projected physician shortage. Since that time, the number of first-year students in medical schools has grown by nearly 35% as schools have expanded class sizes and 30 new schools have opened. Despite these efforts, the latest AAMC projections show a significant shortage of up to 139,000 physicians by 2033.
Increasing the overall supply of physicians to meet the needs of America’s growing and aging population also requires Congress to lift the caps on federal support for graduate medical education training positions. All medical school graduates must complete residency training before they can practice medicine independently. The AAMC supports bipartisan legislation that would gradually add 15,000 Medicare-supported residency positions over five years to ensure all patients have access to a physician’s care when needed.
Additional facts about the 2020 entering class
As in previous years, medical school enrollees in 2020 had strong academic credentials, with a median undergraduate GPA of 3.79, even higher than last year. Enrollees ranged in age from 17 to 50, and 168 of them were military veterans, a 28% increase from 2019. Additionally, this year’s entering class demonstrated a dedicated commitment to service, including volunteering to help communities during the pandemic. The class cumulatively performed more than 14 million community service hours, an average of 644 hours per student.
Note to editors: The race/ethnicity data includes individuals who identified in one or more race/ethnicity categories. For example, “Black or African American” includes individuals who identified only as Black or African American, as well as those who identified as Black or African American and at least one other race/ethnicity category.