Medical school enrollment reaches all-time high, AAMC calls on feds to lift residency cap

This year's incoming class of medical students is the largest and most diverse yet, at 20,343 first-time enrollees, according to information released today by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

AAMC also reported an increase in the total number of applicants and first-time applicants, which indicates a growing interest in medicine.

Yet as enrollment climbs, the number of available residency training positions remains static. First year trainee positions are capped at 26,000, due to the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. "We need lawmakers to act now or we are running a serious health risk for our nation," said AAMC President and CEO Darrell Kirch, MD.

This year's surge in medical school enrollment is due in part to the expansion of U.S. medical schools. Western Michigan University School of Medicine opened in Kalamazoo, Mich. this year and is accepting students to begin August 2015. In the past 12 years, 17 new medical schools have opened in the U.S., increasing enrollment by 23.4 percent to help address the current physician shortage.

"We have a growing, aging, increasingly diverse population," said Dr. Kirch. "We need to have a growing, increasingly diverse physician pool to meet their needs."

Greater numbers of minorities applied to medical school this year, resulting in a more diverse pool of enrolled students. American Indian and Alaska Native enrollees grew the most in 2014, by nearly 17 percent to 202 students. Latino enrollees increased 1.8 percent to 1,859 students and African American enrollees increased 1.1 percent to 1,412 students, according to the AAMC.*

The number of first-time women applicants also rose this year, by 3.3 percent to 17,625, while first-time male applicants rose only 2.1 percent to 19,066.

Medical schools are beginning to take a more holistic approach to admissions, taking personal attributes and experiential diversity into account, according to Dr. Kirch. He said a majority of applicants have research experience, healthcare volunteer experience or experience volunteering outside of the healthcare field, as a result. Despite the holistic approach, admission prospects remain tough. The average grade point was 3.5 and the average MCAT score was 29, according to Dr. Kirch.

"In addition to schools using new, innovative admissions practices that look at attributes and experiences in addition to grades and test scores, they also are working to strengthen the K-12 pipeline," said Dr. Kirch. "The gains we are seeing show that we are making progress, but there still needs to be more work done to diversify the talent pool."

*Note: AAMC changed their methodology for collecting race data in 2013 to give students more flexibility in self-identifying, according to Dr. Kirch.

More articles on the physician shortage:

The hard truth behind chronic care (and 5 ways to end the pandemic)

Legislation introduced addressing physician shortage

10 states with the most, fewest practicing physicians

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