Women outpace men in med school enrollment for 1st time

Of the more than 21,000 newly enrolled students in medical schools in 2017, 50.7 percent were women—the first time the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has recorded a female majority in medical school enrollment.

Their share in the AAMC survey was just shy of a majority in 2016, hitting 49.8 percent. Female enrollment increased by 3.2 percent this year, while male enrollment was down 0.3 percent. Since 2015, the number of female students has increased by 9.6 percent while the number of males declined by 2.3 percent. Men remained a slight majority (50.4 percent) of those applying to medical school.

“We are very encouraged by the growing number of women enrolling in U.S. medical schools,” Darrell Kirch, MD, AAMC president and CEO, said in a statement. “This year’s matriculating class demonstrates that medicine is an increasingly attractive career for women and that medical schools are creating an inclusive environment. While we have much more work to do to attain broader diversity among our students, faculty, and leadership, this is a notable milestone.”

Additionally, enrollment has increased 12.6 percent among African-Americans and 15.4 percent among students who were Hispanic, Latino, or of Spanish origin since 2015.

Other findings from the survey included:

  • 35.3 percent of new students were interested in primary care specialties or subspecialties, such as family medicine or obstetrics and gynecology.
  • 35.3 percent entered medical school already carrying student loan debt, with a median debt load of $27,000.
  • 62.2 percent said they plan to participate in research during their career.
  • The most frequently cited “essential” considerations for their careers were work/life balance (47 percent), having a “stable, secure future” (41.9 percent) and the ability to pay off debt (41.4 percent).
  • Nearly 30 percent want to eventually work in an underserved area.

In one area that didn’t show growth, total applicants to medical schools were down 2.6 percent in 2016, the largest drop in 15 years and the first decline of any kind since 2008. AAMC downplayed the drop in applications, saying there’s been a 50 percent jump in the total number of applicants since 2002 and enrollment has continued to grow.

The current trends, however, won’t be enough to cover the approaching physician shortage, which AAMC has said could surpass 100,000 by 2030.

“Congress must lift the cap on federal support for medical residency positions it enacted 20 years ago,” Kirch said. “Bipartisan legislation to increase federal support for residency training has been introduced in both the House and Senate. Given our growing and aging population, the AAMC urges Congress to pass this legislation so that future patients will have access to the care they’ll need.”