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Record number of applicants applying for medical school for 2021 amid pandemic

Virus Outbreak Israel
Posted at 5:32 PM, Dec 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-18 19:33:31-05

Being a healthcare worker, especially this year, has been no easy task. Yet, applications for medical school are at an all-time high.

“So I decided to apply to 32. I haven't regretted it yet, there's still time to, we’ll see,” Laura Shepherd, a medical school applicant, said. Shepherd recently graduated from the University of Hawaii, and has now applied for 32 medical schools this round.

“There's kind of a range. Some students will apply to one,” she said. “The application process takes almost an entire year."

She’s one of many hoping to get into medical school in 2021. In fact, admissions departments are seeing the most applicants ever.

“What we’re finding is at this stage, an 18 percent increase in the number of applicants,” Dr. Geoffrey Young, the senior director for student affairs and programs at the Association of American Medical Colleges, said. The association is also referred to as the AAMC.

Dr. Young said usually, they see a one to three percent increase in applications each year.

“You just feel, your chances, statistically that really decreases your chances ya know,” Shepherd said.

“We don’t quite know what that might be because we don’t have a trend of data at this point,” Dr. Young said. But they do have some guesses as to why there’s such a big increase — one being the instability of the job market. “Medicine remains a stable profession,” he said.

And the dedication of healthcare workers through the pandemic has also played a role.

“How can you not be touched by a nurse or a physician or a tech sitting with someone and they are dying and trying to make a connection, a human connection between that patient and that patients loved ones,” Dr. Young explained.

“I had never wanted to go to medical school more. I really really wanted to go. I was fidgeting in my seat whenever I watched news reports of how bad it was,” Shepherd said.

The rise in interest is good for the healthcare industry, as a whole.

The U.S. could see an estimated shortage of 54,000 to 139,000 physicians by 2033, according to the AAMC. And burnout could factor into that.

“Physicians, all the providers, all the staff stepped up for that first wave and that second wave through the summer and now the third wave. It’s just draining for everyone,” Dr. Scott Strauss said. He is a Division Vice President for Graduate Medical Education for HCA Healthcare. “It’s really the residency programs that also need to increase.”

Residency happens after finishing medical school. Dr. Strauss and his coworkers are working on expanding the number of residency positions available. Both these and medical school spots would need to increase to help meet the demand of physicians.

“Medical school residency training in healthcare in the future will absolutely be different and have been impacted by COVID,” Dr. Strauss said.

As admissions departments sort through the record amount of applicants this year, pre-med graduates like Shepherd are hoping to be part of the change in the future.

“Some people who aren't shooting to be a doctor might think that’s terrifying that must really make you second guess your choice,” she said. “But I think a lot of pre-med students would agree with me when they say that makes me want to do it more.”