Medical School Enrollment Reaches Record High; More Residency Positions Needed
AAMC Reporter: November 2012
—By Sarah Mann
As the nation faces a shortage of 90,000 doctors over the next decade, the number of students enrolling in medical school reached an all-time high this year, according to AAMC data released in late October. At the same time, the data show healthy diversity gains among this year’s applicants and enrollees.
The total number of students applying to medical school increased by 3.1 percent over 2011 to 45,266 applicants. First-time applicants—considered a measure of interest in medicine—reached a record of 33,772, compared with 32,654 in 2011. Total enrollment rose by 1.5 percent to 19,517 students, another record high. Among men, the number of applicants and enrollees increased, particularly among black/African-American and Hispanic/Latino men. The number of women applying to and enrolling in medical school remained relatively unchanged from last year, at 20,922 applicants and 9,064 enrollees. “We are pleased that once again both the number and diversity of students applying to and enrolling in medical school has increased,” said AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, M.D.
But Kirch noted that unless Congress lifts the 1997 limits on residency training positions, the increased enrollment will not translate into a single new doctor to alleviate the shortage. “Medical schools are doing all they can to help avert the coming physician shortages by expanding enrollment. But we are nearing a critical deficit of residency training positions, and Congress needs to act now,” he said.
For the third consecutive year, applicants and enrollees across most major racial and ethnic groups increased. A record number of black/African-American students (3,824) applied to medical school, up 5.1 percent over 2011. Black/African-American enrollees increased to 1,416 students, a 3 percent gain. Applications among Hispanic/Latino students rose by 7 percent. The number of Hispanic/Latino enrollees reached 1,731, representing 6 percent growth over 2011. Among American Indian and Alaska Native students, there were 430 applicants, up 13.5 percent since last year, and 184 enrollees.
“The reality is the American population is becoming more diverse, and we need the physician population to reflect that,” Kirch said. “We believe the increase in diversity we are seeing among both applicants and enrollees reflects the changing demographics in our student pool, and especially the work that our medical schools are doing in terms of outreach and admission efforts to attract and educate a more diverse workforce.”
Commenting on the diversity gains during an AAMC teleconference to announce the 2012 data, AAMC Chief Diversity Officer Marc Nivet, Ed.D., pointed toward pipeline programs like the AAMC’s Summer Medical and Dental Education Program and efforts at medical schools across the country that encourage middle school, high school, and college students to pursue medicine and science.
“Our medical schools…have redoubled their efforts at increasing the numbers of minority students. They’ve really made a true commitment to this,” Nivet said.
This year’s enrollment gains place medical schools on track to meet the 30 percent increase in total enrollment by 2016, which the AAMC called for in 2006 to help alleviate future physician shortages. Two new medical schools—Cooper Medical School of Rowan University and the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville—admitted their charter classes this year. Overall, 771 students, or 4 percent of enrollees nationwide, entered one of the 11 new medical schools that opened between 2007 and 2012.
“The total impact of the new medical schools will grow, but it is still relatively small at this time,” said Henry Sondheimer, M.D., AAMC senior director of medical education projects. “The new medical schools are starting with small class sizes, but those that opened three to four years ago are just starting to enlarge their incoming classes.” Sondheimer added that four more new medical schools are scheduled to enroll their inaugural classes next year.
In terms of qualifications, this year’s applicants remained competitive academically, with the average undergraduate GPA and median score on the Medical College Admissions Test® (MCAT®) holding steady over 2011, at 3.54 and 29, respectively.
“Once again, exceptionally qualified individuals are applying to and enrolling in medical school,” Kirch said. “They have that combination of strong academic credentials, a range of experiences, and a commitment to service that medical school admissions committees are looking for these days.”
Community service is a high priority for new students, with 90 percent of enrollees planning to be involved in extracurricular community service during medical school. Among these students, 72 percent said their school’s ability to provide community-based experiences was a “positive” or “very positive” factor in their school choice. This year’s enrollees also expressed a strong interest in research, with 76 percent saying they expect to be involved in research during medical school.
The percentage of students entering medical school with pre-medical debt declined slightly to 36 percent, compared with 37 percent in 2011 and 2010. Although 39 percent of new medical students in an AAMC survey expressed concern about debt, Kirch said a career in medicine remains a “good investment,” adding that incoming medical students will be prepared to meet the challenges of a changing health care system and increasingly diverse population.
“I’m in the privileged position of seeing the next generation, and they’re ready for this. The increase in applicant numbers reflect that,” he said. “If people really believed medicine was not a great career, these numbers would be going down, not up. They know it’s one of the most rewarding, gratifying professions a person can pursue.”
“Medical schools are doing all they can to help avert the coming physician shortages by expanding enrollment. But we are nearing a critical deficit of residency training positions, and Congress needs to act now.”
Darrell G. Kirch, M.D., AAMC President and CEO