The number of medical school applicants has risen for the first time in six years, spurred on by a rise in the number of applications from women and blacks, the Association of American Medical Colleges reported last week.
The increase is a positive sign for the medical field, which has been rocked this year by predictions of a looming physician shortage after years of worries about an oversupply of doctors (Oct. 13, p. 16; June 16, p. 28).
The Council on Graduate Medical Education last month called for an increase in medical students and a corresponding rise in the number of first-year residency slots from about 24,000 to almost 27,000 by the year 2015. The policy shift followed a council report that projected a shortage of 85,000 to 96,000 physicians by 2020.
For the 2003-2004 school year, the number of applicants rose to 34,785, a 3.4% increase from the prior year but still far short of the record 46,965 applicants recorded in 1996.
Much of the increase is attributed to a 7% jump in applications from women. For the first time, the number of women applying to medical school outpaced men, by 17,672 to 17,113. At the same time there was a 5% increase to 2,736 in the number of blacks who applied to medical school, including a 10% increase among black women (1,904). The number of Hispanic applicants also increased slightly to 2,483.
"The increase in total and first-time applicants is a reaffirming sign that the current generation of young people recognizes the attractiveness of medicine as a profession," said Jordan Cohen, president of the association.
Despite the increase in black applicants, however, the number who were accepted and actually enrolled fell by 6%. Cohen attributed the drop-off to nervousness about how the Supreme Court would rule on the use of race as a factor in university admissions.
In June, after medical schools had made their acceptance decisions, the court ruled that schools could factor in race as long as it was not an overriding factor in their admissions programs.
Though the number of applications have dipped in recent years, the total number of students being accepted into medical schools each year, about 16,500, has remained relatively unchanged. The concern for academic institutions, Cohen said, was that as the pool got thinner, the number of qualified applicants would decrease.
The upward trend is expected to continue during the next school year because of a 5% increase in the number of first-time applicants-first-timers who get rejected often reapply-and a 5% increase to date in the number of applications for 2004-2005, compared with the number of applicants who applied for the current school year.