Med School ApplicationPre-Med

The Surprising Surge in the Number of Medical School Applications

increase in number of medical school applicants post COVID-19

In the wake of COVID-19, the United States has seen a sudden and surprising surge in the number of students applying for medical school.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and reported by NPR, the number of students applying for med school is up a staggering 18% from 2020 to 2021.

Speculation as to this sudden increase in students looking to forge a career in medicine abounds, but it is all pandemic related. Some theories include . .

  • Students personally impacted by COVID and motivated to go into medicine as a result
  • More free time to complete the lengthy process of applying to medical school
  • A newfound respect for the front-line healthcare professionals we see and read about in news stories

Geoffrey Young, Senior Director for Student Affairs and Programs for the AAMC calls this rise in applicants unprecedented and likens the response to America’s response to 09/11. As reported by NPR, Young says,

“After [September 11], there was a huge increase in the number of men and women that were entering into the military. So far in my lifetime, at least, and for as long as I’ve been in medical education, that’s the only comparison that I could make.”

The ‘Fauci Effect’?

Another factor in this surge is what is being called the “Fauci Effect.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Chief Medical Advisor to the President, has gained near heroic status to many Americans looking for facts and reassurance during the pandemic.

It is widely assumed that Dr. Fauci’s elevated profile during COVID-19 has given a generation of students the desire to emulate the physician and go into evidence-based medicine.

In response to this “Fauci effect” speculation, Forbes quotes Dr. Fauci as calling it “flattering” but replying,

“Probably a more realistic assessment is that, rather than the Fauci Effect, it’s the effect of a physician who is trying to and hopefully succeeding in having an important impact on an individual’s health, as well as on global health . . . If it works to get more young individuals into medical school, go ahead and use my name.”

So, What Does This Rise in Medical School Applications Mean?

For the healthcare community . . .

For the average American and the healthcare community at large, this news is a welcome reprieve from the projected physician shortages in our country.

Results from a pre-COVID AAMC study (The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections from 2018–2033) showed that by 2033 the United States could face an estimated shortfall in primary and specialty care between 54,100 and 139,000 physicians.

In response to the annual report, David J. Skorton, MD., AAMC President and CEO, surmised

“This annual analysis continues to show that our country will face a significant shortage of physicians in the coming years . . . The challenge of having enough doctors to serve our communities will get even worse as the nation’s population continues to grow and age.”

This flood of new medical school applicants is sure to lessen the projected shortage of future physicians and curb wait times for future Americans looking to see a primary care or specialty care physician.

For pre-med students . . . 

For students looking to attend medical school, the burgeoning rise in applications means elevated competition. With increased applications comes fewer available spots in a student’s medical school of choice. 

Now more than ever, students need to make sure their applications to medical school stand out above the rest. A robust pre-med course load, research opportunities, experience in a healthcare setting, volunteerism, and an excellent MCAT® score — these are some of the most important things that medical schools are looking for. 

The good news is this: Though there is increased competition for medical school applicants, healthcare is a booming industry. Scientific discoveries, advances in technology, and an aging population make medicine a noble and rewarding career choice.


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