Despite the staggering costs of a medical degree, the number of students enrolled in medical schools has reached a new high of 20,343, according to a new report released by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
The spike in the number of applicants to medical schools also rose by 3.1 percent to 49,480. Among Hispanic and Latinos, the number of medical school enrollees increased by 1.8 percent to 1,859 and among African-Americans, enrollment rose 1.1 percent to 1,412.
In a conference call with reporters this week, Dr. Darrell G. Kirch, president and CEO of AAMC, said that the numbers — particularly among women and minorities — are encouraging.
“In spite of the ongoing partisan debate around the nation’s health care system, it is gratifying to see that increasing numbers of students want to become physicians,” he said. “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.”
While males enrolling in medical school continue to outpace females 52 to 42 percent, the number of women applicants rose this year by 3.3 percent to 17,625 compared to a 2.1 percent increase in first-time male applicants (19,066).
“Medical schools understand that an effective physician workforce is a diverse workforce,” said Kirch. “In addition to schools using new, innovative admissions practices that look at attributes and experiences in addition to grades and test scores, they also are working to strengthen the K-12 pipeline. The gains we are seeing show that we are making progress, but there still needs to be more work done to diversify the talent pool.”
Still, the growing cost of attending medical school has forced some, like Cleveland native Dennis Brown, to abandon the profession altogether.
“Because I had so many loans from my undergraduate years, medical school was simply not an option for me,” said Brown who works for a pharmaceutical company in Chicago. “It would have been nice, but I just was not psychologically and emotionally to shoulder that much debt.”
Brown’s sentiments may partially explain why the percentage of African-American students enrolled in medical schools across the country had fallen steadily over the last decade while enrollment for Hispanic and Asian students dramatically soared. In 2004, for example, African-American students represented about 7.4 percent of all of the students enrolled in medical schools, compared to just 7 percent in 2011.
But the recent data from AAMC indicates that costs alone may no longer serve as a deterrent.
Kirch said that the overall gains in the numbers of applicants and enrollees are related to the expansion of the nation’s medical school capacity. In 2006, AAMC launched a public campaign to address the projected physician shortage. He said that since 2002 enrollment at medical schools across the country has increased by 23.4 percent and 17 new medical schools have been established.
Jamal Watson can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow him on Twitter @jamalericwatson.