Medical School Enrollment Hits All-Time High

Medical school enrollment in the US has hit an all-time high, according to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges. The data also show medical schools continue to become more diverse.

Medical school enrollment in the US has hit an all-time high, according to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The number of first-time medical school students this year is 20,343, an increase of 1.4%. The number of medical school applications also increased, up 3.1% to 49,480. Of those, 36,697 were first-time applicants.

“In spite of the ongoing partisan debate around the nation’s healthcare system, it is gratifying to see that increasing numbers of students want to become physicians,” said Darrell G. Kirch, MD, the association’s president and CEO, in a press release. “However, these results show that our nation must act without delay to ensure an adequate number of residency training positions for these aspiring doctors so they will be able to care for our growing and aging population.”

The problem is legislation from 1997, which capped the number of residency positions for which a hospital could get Medicare indirect medical education (IME) and direct graduate medical education (DGME) reimbursement. The 17-year-old budget-balancing initiative could now have the effect of creating a bottleneck. Demand for physicians and interest in the field appear to be growing, but Kirch worries a shortage of residency positions could impede the supply of new doctors.

The association said the driving force behind the higher enrollments has been the expansion of the country’s medical schools. Medical school enrollment has jumped by nearly one-quarter (23.4%) since 2002, and 17 new medical schools have been established.

The demographics of the profession also appear to be changing. The number of Hispanic or Latino enrollees increased by 1.8%, to 1,859. African-American enrollees increased by 3.2% to 3,990. The number of American Indian or Alaska native enrollees increased by 17%, though the enrollment numbers remain very low compared to other groups, at just 202.

Men continued to account for 52% of medical school enrollees, though the number of female first-time enrollees grew by a higher percentage (3.3%) than the rate of growth for male first-time enrollees (2.1%).

Kirch said medical schools have adopted new admissions policies and are working in K-12 settings to spark interest in the profession and boost its diversity.

“The gains we are seeing show that we are making progress,” he said, “but there still needs to be more work done to diversify the talent pool.”