Women leading climb in med school applications

Total applications rise during a slow economy.

By Myrle Croasdale — Posted Nov. 8, 2004

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The number of women applying to medical school outpaced men for the second year in a row, with women making up 50.4% of the 2004 applicant pool, according the Assn. of American Medical Colleges.

"We are gratified to see that the gender gap that existed in medicine for so long is disappearing," said Jordan J. Cohen, MD, AAMC president.

Those admitted to the class of 2004-05 were almost evenly divided by gender as well, with women making up 49.5% of the class.

The increase in women applicants helped to lift total applicants 2.7% from the previous year. Applicant numbers peaked at 46,965 in 1996 before declining over six years to a low of 33,625 in 2002. This year's pool was 35,727, the second year in a row the number has risen.

Dr. Cohen tied the upswing in applicants to the sluggish economy.

"It shows that with the economic downturn of the last few years, students are looking at medicine more favorably," he said. "When the economy doesn't look so rosy, students are more apt to consider medicine as a way to go."

The number of underrepresented minorities entering medical school also saw an uptick. Black enrollment increased 2.5% compared with the previous year, while the number of Hispanics starting medical school was up almost 8% from a year ago.

Dr. Cohen attributed the rise in minority enrollment to the Supreme Court decision in June 2003 supporting affirmative action in higher education. Admissions committees now felt free to consider race along with applicants' academic achievements.

While the number of medical school applicants has fluctuated, the number of medical student positions and graduate medical slots have stayed virtually unchanged, causing a growing number of health policy watchers to warn that the country is at risk for a physician shortage.

Dr. Cohen said the AAMC was preparing to revise its policy on the physician work force soon, hinting that it may advocate an expansion of undergraduate and graduate medical education.

The data cover AAMC's 125 U.S. allopathic med school members and does not include the 20 U.S. medical schools within the American Assn. of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine.

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Almost 50-50

Women are closing medicine's gender gap. For the past two years, the number of women applying to medical school has surpassed the number of men, and women now make up almost half of the entering class.

Number of applicants
Women Men Total
1994 18,967 26,393 45,360
1995 19,776 26,810 46,586
1996 20,028 26,937 46,965
1997 18,271 24,745 43,016
1998 17,785 23,211 40,996
1999 17,395 21,048 38,443
2000 17,273 19,816 37,089
2001 16,718 18,142 34,860
2002 16,556 17,069 33,625
2003 17,672 17,114 34,786
2004 18,015 17,712 35,727

Source: Assn. of American Medical Colleges data as of Oct. 14

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Class mix

Black and Hispanic enrollment in medical school rose for the class of 2004-05. Some 2.5% more blacks started their medical education this fall compared with last year, while the number of Hispanics seeking to become physicians rose almost 8%.

White 10,338
Asian 3,093
Hispanic 1,174
Black 1,086
International 219
Native American,
including Alaska Native
Native Hawaiian/
Pacific Islander
Other 669
Total 16,638

Source: Assn. of American Medical Colleges data as of Oct. 14

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