Students Rush to Medical School in Coronavirus Era as Doctor Shortages Are Predicted

Medical school instruction
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While the strains on the frontline of the battle against the coronavirus makes headlines, Americans are rushing to apply for medical school as medical colleges predict a growing shortage of doctors in the United States.

In June, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) issued the a report, which said, in part:

Even as the nation’s health care workforce combats the spread and lethality of COVID-19, a report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) projects that the United States will face a shortage of between 54,100 and 139,000 physicians by 2033.

The pandemic, which struck after the projections were completed, magnifies the need to address shortfalls in both primary care doctors and specialists, the AAMC says.

“The physician workforce shortages that our nation is facing are being felt even more acutely as we mobilize on the front lines to combat the COVID-19 national emergency,” says AAMC President and CEO David J. Skorton. “The increasing physician shortage over the last two decades, and now the COVID-19 pandemic, has demonstrated that we need to increase the number of physicians to ensure we can care for patients in the near-term and in the future.”

But the enrollment at medical colleges tells a different story, including the phenomenon of people seeing doctors and nurses fighting the pandemic, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as inspiration for a career in health care.

National Public Radio (NPR) reported on the development:

When COVID-19 restrictions reduced his work schedule at the National Institutes of Health, Sam Smith decided to turn to another time-consuming job: applying to medical school. He’d always wanted to go into medicine, but what was happening in the world had a big impact on the kind of medicine he hopes to practice. Now Smith wants to specialize in infectious diseases.

The experience of the past year “makes me think, there’s probably going to be another pandemic” in the future, said Smith, 25. “So I want to be on the front lines of the next one.”

Even as college and university enrollment overall has dropped this fall, Smith is part of a wave of what officials say is a record number of applicants to medical school. The number of applicants is up 18 percent this year over last year, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

“It’s unprecedented,” Geoffrey Young, the AAMC’s senior director for student affairs and programs, said. He compares it to another response to a traumatic moment in American history —  Sept. 11, 2001 Islamic terrorist attack on the United States.

“After [Sept. 11], there was a huge increase in the number of men and women that were entering into the military,” Young said. “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.”

Stanford University School of Medicine reported a 50 percent increase in the number of applications, or 11,000 applications for the 90 seats available. Boston University School of Medicine said applications are up 27 percent, to 12,024 for about 110 seats available.

“Among other reasons admissions officials cite for the increase in prospective medical students is that the pandemic has given people more free time to complete the arduous application process,” NPR reported.

“A lot of the plans they made postgrad honestly fell through,” Sahil Mehta, a practicing radiologist and founder of MedSchoolCoach, which prepares students for the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, said.

Mary Grace Kelley was a medical assistant at a dermatology practice that was shut down temporarily because of the virus. The down time gave Kelley a chance to retake her MCAT test and improve her score.

“Everyone feels some sort of responsibility,” Kelley said. “There’s definitely a call to arms thinking that, if there’s another pandemic, it’ll be up to us.”

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