It’s always been tough to get into medical school. But now it may be tougher than ever before.
Frankly, I’m surprised. With doctors retiring earlier than ever or leaving clinical care for administrative or other non-clinical positions, I expected a decline in medical school enrollment. For a while that was true, but not any more.
Despite the growing shortage of doctors, there is a growing interest in medical careers. Ilana Kowarski, writing in U.S. News & World Report, quotes Dr. Robert Hasty of the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine, who says demand for a medical education is “near an all time high.”
“People really want to become physicians, and now more than ever. I would say this is especially true of the millennial generation. And I can tell you that, here at (our school), we hear from high-quality applicants everyday … and these are people with really high MCAT scores and GPAs, that this is their second year, third year or even fourth year applying to medical schools. And years ago, they would have gotten accepted the first time through, but the demand is just incredible.”
The Association of American Medical Colleges says there were more than 10,000 more applicants seeking admission to American medical schools in 2018 than ten years ago, a 25% increase over the ten-year period. Hasty says young people are especially eager to find work that allows them to have a positive impact on society, and the emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math in contemporary U.S. schools has boosted the number of people who want to become doctors.
“The current millennial generation, their desire to serve and give back is really incredible,” he says, adding that Generation Z, which is just starting to apply to medical school, also shows a strong interest in public service. Hasty also suggests that U.S. high schools and colleges are doing a better job of engaging students in science classes than they had in the past, which is spurring an uptick in interest.
There is no doubt we have a significant shortage of doctors that is expected to get worse. The AAMC estimates the shortage between 42,600 and 121,300 by the year 2030. Class sizes have increased 30% since 2002 to make up the difference. Is there also a medical school shortage? Would more medical schools solve the problem?
Jason Farr, senior vice president of The Medicus Firm, a health provider recruiting company in Texas, says the real problem is residency jobs. He says there aren’t enough residency jobs for the number of current medical school graduates so more graduates won’t solve the problem.
Furthermore, current medical school applicants have different expectations for their medical career than earlier generations. Farr says contemporary doctors are more eager to find work-life balance than their predecessors in past eras, and many doctors are unwilling to put in the long hours that previous generations of physicians did. This means it will take many more of these new medical school graduates to replace those who are retiring now.
It is encouraging to learn that there is enthusiasm for medical careers in the younger generations and the quality of applicants may actually be getting better. Those of us near the end of our careers have lost some of our original enthusiasm because of increasing government intrusion into the practice of medicine that detracts from patient care. Perhaps these new physicians will be better able to accept these intrusions in return for reduced hours and better work-life balance. I certainly hope so, since my life expectancy may depend upon them!