Medical schools reported another round of record-breaking application and enrollment totals as college graduates continue to ignore the warnings of senior physicians who recommend that they seek a career in something besides medicine.
First-year student enrollment in U.S. medical schools increased 1.4% to 20,630 in 2015 from 20,343 last year, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. The AAMC also reported a 6.2% increase in medical school applications to 52,550 this year from 49,480 in 2014.
AAMC President and CEO Dr. Darrel Kirch said that, whenever he speaks to groups of medical students, he asks how many of them have been told not to go into medicine by a physician of his age.
“Every hand goes up,” Kirch said.
Senior physicians have gone through a period of stressful change, Kirch said. But today's medical students “are not afraid of technology.” They also feel that being held accountable through quality reporting is common sense and are prepared to work in teams, Kirch said. “It's the world they expect to be in."
Demographically, the same 52 to 48 percentage split between male and female students seen last year was repeated in 2015. Except for a small drop in enrollment of American Indian, Pacific Islander, and Native Alaskan and Hawaiian students, Kirch reported that gains were made toward increasing ethnic and racial diversity among medical students.
Compared with last year's cohort of new medical students, this year has 6.9% more Asian students, 6.9% more Latino students and 11.6% more black students. Kirch said he was encouraged by a 9.2% increase in the number of black men enrolled in medical schools but was still concerned about the overall low number.
The 652 black men enrolled this year means that, on average, there are two to four in each class. Kirch said he had three black men as classmates when he graduated from medical school in 1977, and he never imagined that there would be roughly the same number almost 40 years later.
Dr. Cynthia Boyd, assistant dean for admission and recruitment at Rush Medical College in Chicago, said that not only is recruitment of black men a challenge, there is also fierce competition for the top candidates. She said Rush accepted applications from 10 black men for this year's 128-student class, but none enrolled. Last year, they accepted nine and five enrolled.
Rush University Medical Center CEO Dr. Larry Goodman has made recruitment trips to historically black colleges such as Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans and Hampton University in Norfolk, Va., Boyd said. Rush also reaches out to local high school students and brings them in to experience a day in the life of a medical student. Minority “student ambassadors” attending Rush also help to recruit at the schools they graduated from.
Schools are giving a “holistic review” to applications from minority students to give credit for factors beyond grades and test scores, such as “distance traveled,” or the obstacles a person had to overcome to graduate from college.
Another challenge is that new medical schools are opening and existing ones are expanding, but the number of graduate medical education programs and residency positions has remained flat, Kirch said.
Three new medical schools graduated their first classes this past spring and one new medical school opened this fall: California Northstate University College of Medicine in Elk Grove, which enrolled 60 students. Kirch said three more are opening next year, including the University of Texas Dell Medical School in Austin, which received 4,528 applications from individuals seeking to be members of its 50-student inaugural class in 2016.
The problem that remains is that the number of medical residency training positions has not grown at the same pace. Dr. Atul Grover, AAMC chief public policy officer, reported that were 27,293 open residency positions last spring. But this fall, there is a combined total of 27,655 students enrolled in medical and osteopathic medicine schools.
“There is a blockage,” Kirch said. He added that there is concern that there won't be enough orthopedists, cardiologists, oncologists and psychiatrists to meet the needs of aging baby boomers.
Kirch said Congress is aware of the problem and there are always active bills to increase the number of residency positions, but they never gain any traction.
The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine also released figures this week showing that 7,025 first-year students enrolled at its 31 member institutions. This is a 3.5% increase from the 6,786 new students who enrolled in 2014. Two new osteopathic schools opened this fall.