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Association of American Medical Colleges Tomorrow's Doctors, Tomorrow's Cures®

Medicine Remains Attractive Career as Enrollment Reach All-Time High

AAMC Reporter: November 2011

—By Sarah Mann

The number of first-time applicants to medical school reached an all-time high in 2011, increasing 2.6 percent over 2010 to 32,654, according to new AAMC data. This is the largest first-time applicant pool since the AAMC began tracking such information in 1989. The total number of applicants grew by 2.8 percent this year to 43,919, up from 42,741 in 2010.

“This demonstrates without a doubt that medicine remains a very attractive career to undergraduates,” said AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, M.D. “We are very pleased that medicine continues to be attractive at a time when our health care system faces many challenges.”

Medical school first-year enrollment increased by 3 percent over 2010 data, with 19,230 students entering the 2011 class. The gender breakdown was steady over last year, at 53 percent male and 47 percent female.

For the second year in a row, the total numbers of applicants and enrollees from most major racial and ethnic groups increased. The strongest growth occurred among Hispanic/Latino applicants, up by 5.8 percent over 2010. Hispanic/Latino enrollment rose by 6.1 percent, and Latina enrollees drove the increase, up 12 percent over 2010. Among black students, the number of applicants went up by 4.7 percent, and enrollment increased by 1.9 percent. Overall, applications among American Indian students declined 8.7 percent, and 157 American Indian students enrolled, down from 191 last year. The number of Asian applicants grew by 3.8 percent; enrollees rose by 3.3 percent.

“We are encouraged that the pool of medical school applicants and enrollees continues to be more diverse,” Kirch said. “Given the health care needs of this nation, it is important that medical schools have high-quality applicants from across the broad spectrum of racial and ethnic groups, because we need a health care system that can deliver high-quality care to this changing population.”

Applicants remained academically competitive, with the average GPA and median score on the Medical College Admissions Test® unchanged over last year, at 3.5 and 29, respectively.

“We certainly continue to attract exceptionally well-qualified individuals who have strong academic credentials,” Kirch said. “They show a real commitment to the scientific foundation of medicine and to community service.”

Community service is a priority for both applicants and enrollees. Nearly 83 percent of applicants reported volunteer experience in medical or clinical settings. About 71 percent of enrollees cited their school’s ability to provide community-based experiences as a “positive” or “very positive” factor in their school choice. Additionally, 90 percent of enrollees said they hope to be involved in extracurricular community service during medical school, with 65 percent expecting to have a global health service experience.

As in previous years, medical school expansion drove the rise in total enrollment. Eleven medical schools increased their class sizes by more than 10 percent over 2010. In addition, three new schools—Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University, Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine in Michigan, and Hofstra University School of Medicine in New York—opened this year, admitting a total of 154 students into their charter classes. Two more medical schools are expected to open next year, and several additional medical programs are in various stages of the accreditation process.

The AAMC’s Center for Workforce Studies has projected a shortage of more than 90,000 physicians by 2020.In 2006, to help address the anticipated shortfall, the AAMC called for a 30 percent increase in medical school enrollment. Current projections indicate that medical schools are on track to meet that goal by 2017. These enrollment increases will add about 7,000 medical graduates annually over the next decade, when compared with 2002.

In light of the many challenges facing the physician workforce, the additional new doctors will be necessary to meet future health care needs.

“Several powerful forces will increase the demands on the health care system over the next 10 years,” Kirch said, citing a larger Medicare population as baby boomers age, an increase in insured individuals with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, and the retirement of existing physicians.

However, he noted that potential decreases in the number of Medicare-funded residency slots could hinder efforts to produce more doctors.

“If Congress cuts the funding for doctor training, we may not have enough residency training positions to accommodate this growing number of medical school graduates,” Kirch said. “We need to continue the support that Medicare provides for residency training, so we can ensure that these students coming in today will actually be able to complete their training. That will be a key factor in the quality of health care we all receive in the years to come.”