Enrollment in medical school increased by a record 18 percent in 2021-22, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reported.
The number of minority candidates also saw an unprecedented rise this year. Among the 22,000 students who enrolled in fall, the number of African Americans rose by 21 percent, Asians by 8 percent, and Hispanic students by 7 percent compared to last year.
This year’s record high comes in marked contrast to figures over the past 20 years, as the number of applicants rose or fell by a maximum of two to three percent each year.
This is also the third year in a row that women constitute the majority of enrolled students, the report found.
“We are especially encouraged by the growth in applications and new enrollments by students in racial and ethnic groups that are underrepresented in medicine,” AAMC’s senior director, Geoffrey Young, said.
Admissions counselors attribute this record high to a mix of developments. From reduction in fees to a renewed focus on the medical profession during the pandemic, applicants were compelled to take the leap from “someday” to “now.”
Most importantly, the pandemic in itself influenced people who were “sitting on the fence” to take the plunge, admissions leaders said.
Students were also moved by how much the pandemic exposed the racial wealth gap in the country. Low-income families bore the brunt as COVID cases spiked and hospitals ran out of beds. Unequal access to healthcare became a contentious issue as people from all walks of life clamored for life-sustaining services.
“This class of students is very concerned with issues of equity and justice,” associate dean of admissions at Weill Cornell Medicine, Kevin Holcomb, said. “The pandemic shined a light on health care disparities. That could motivate somebody who says, ‘I want to make a difference in the world. What’s a pathway for doing this?’”
The widespread shift by schools to interviewing applicants remotely, as well as fee assistance and waivers for medical school applicants during the pandemic, made the path to medical school easier. Finally, medical schools accepted more candidates this year than ever before.
“We expected a certain increase, we didn’t expect this much,” said Mike Woodson, admissions director at Tulane University School of Medicine, which reported that applications rose by 35 percent.