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News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

Applications to US medical schools fall by a fifth

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 11 November 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:1177
  1. Fred Charatan
  1. Florida

    Applications to US medical colleges have fallen by a fifth in four years, as the internet and other new industries bring new career opportunities to young and upwardly mobile people. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, which represents the 125 accredited medical schools, a total of 37 137 students competed for 16 303 places this year. This is a 3.6% decline in the number of applications last year and is 21% lower than the record 46 968 students who applied to US medical schools in 1996.

    Applicants from underrepresented minority groups this year totalled 4267 (1.9% more than in 1999). Of these, 2571 were women, an increase of 0.5% over 1999. The Association of American Medical Colleges classifies underrepresented minorities as black, native American, Mexican American/Chicano, and mainland Puerto Rican.

    “In spite of the ever expanding list of career options available to young people today, especially in the burgeoning internet economy, medical schools continue to attract large numbers of gifted individuals who are interested in becoming doctors,” said the association's president, Dr Jordan Cohen.

    The association thinks that several factors may be contributing to the decline in applicants—for example, the relatively strong economy and the increasing variety of exciting and intellectually challenging professional opportunities outside the traditional career choices.

    Other factors are the perceived loss of autonomy among physicians owing to recent changes in the healthcare market place, a continued backlash against positive discrimination, and concern over the high levels of debt required to complete medical training. The typical medical student faces several years of residency work after completing medical school, which he or she leaves with an average debt of $100 000 (£71 400).

    Sindu Srinivas, president of the American Medical Student Association, said that many potential doctors were discouraged by older physicians who expressed frustration with managed care and by media portrayals of a healthcare system in trouble.

    “As a student, you hear a lot of comments from practising doctors: ‘You shouldn't go into medicine now. It's not as good as it used to be.’ And the media has played that up,” Ms Srinivas said.

    Even with this year's admission figures, the number of places in medical school taken up by people from underrepresented minority groups has dropped by 15% since its 1994 peak, from 2022 to 1729 students, said the Association of American Medical Colleges.

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