The number of medical school applications dropped for the fifth straight year in 2001, falling 6% while tuition and fees increased at a steeper rate, according to a survey appearing in tomorrow's Journal of the American Medical Association.
A total of 34,859 would-be doctors applied to the entering class of 2001 at the nation's 125 accredited medical schools, a significant decrease from the nearly 37,000 who applied just one year earlier, the study said, and a 9.5% drop from 1999's number of applicants.
Meanwhile, the number of applicants accepted has remained constant at about 17,000. That means the ratio of total applicants to accepted applicants was 2-to-1 in 2001, said authors Barbara Barzansky and Sylvia Etzel of the American Medical Association's division of undergraduate and graduate medical education policy and standards.
The authors used data from the 2001-2002 Liaison Committee on Medical Education annual medical school questionnaire along with other sources to describe the status of medical education programs in the nation. The most recent statistics, for the 2002-2003 school year, will be released late October by the Association of American Medical Colleges, a spokeswoman said.
Although preliminary AAMC data for this year's class shows another decline in applications, at least one key indicator points to rebounding interest for next fall's freshman class.
AAMC President Jordan Cohen, M.D., said, "There are indications that the decline in applicant numbers may have bottomed out with the 2002 entering class. Our initial data on the number of people taking the MCAT points to a potential increase in applicants in 2003."
While trends in medical school enrollment are always "cyclical," Barzansky said, several factors have been tied to recent decreases, including concerns about the direction of healthcare, the cost of a medical school education and the availability of other well-paying positions for top college graduates.
"There's really no good data (to directly explain the decreases)," she said.
According to the JAMA report, women made up 48% of total applicants in 2001 and represented 47.8% of first-year students. About 13% of new students were members of underrepresented minority groups.
Total enrollment in all medical schools was 66,219, including 45.7% women and 12.6% black, Hispanic, Native American or Puerto Rican. The low percentage of minority students continues to be an "ongoing concern" among educators, Barzansky said.
"It's certainly something that needs to be monitored," she said.
Medical schools accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education had 104,949 full-time faculty members in 2001, a 2.4% increase from the previous year, the report said. While the number of women faculty members has increased since the 1970s, the proportion of women on medical school faculties -- currently about 30% -- has not grown as rapidly as the proportion of women among medical students.
Tuition and fees for private medical schools during the 2001-2002 academic year were $30,897 for in-state residents and $31, 296 for nonresidents. Median tuition and fees for public medical schools were $12,399 for in-state residents and $27,297 for nonresidents. That represents a one-year increase of 9.5% at private schools for in-state residents, an 8.5% increase at private schools for nonresidents, a 13.3% increase at public schools for in-state residents and a 12.6% increase at public schools for nonresidents.
The average education debt for 2001 graduates was $99,089, compared with $90,745 one year earlier, according to the AAMC.
As part of its annual medical education theme issue, JAMA also included a study indicating that the total number of residents in graduate medical education decreased nearly 2% between 1996-1997 and 2001-2002, to an estimated 96,410. During the same period, the number of graduates of osteopathic medical schools enrolled in allopathic graduate medical education programs grew 42% to 4,658 from 3,288.