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Surge of Med School Applications Will Change the Future of Healthcare

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Key Takeaways

  • Medical programs in the country are seeing a surge in applicants as high as 50%.
  • Schools, universities, and programs are reevaluating their admissions process to meet the demand of applicants and ensure a fair evaluation of prospective students.
  • Schools are focusing more on physician-scientist course trajectories as well as training individuals to be well-versed in all therapeutic areas.

An article published in the Wall Street Journal found that following the COVID-19 pandemic, a wave of young professionals–inspired by the dedication of frontline workers–enrolled in programs in the medical and public health sector fields.1 In April 2021, graduate-level degree programs in public health drew nearly 24,500 applicants for the fall, which is a 40% increase from the year before.1 Companies that tutor students for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) reported a surge of interested customers, and Columbia University’s postbac program has drawn 437 applicants so far for sessions starting this summer and fall (an increase of 297 students from last year).1

Some medical schools have reported an increase in as high as 50% of applicants. Schools such as University of California San Francisco’s School of Medicine, Stanford (Calif.) University School of Medicine, and Boston University School of Medicine saw increases of 34%, 50%, and 27%, respectively.2

These increases in medical and public health courses tell us a few things:

  1. The dedication of the frontline workers during the pandemic inspired thousands of Americans to pursue careers in the health services fields;
  2. Medical programs may begin to rethink their admissions processes in order to accommodate the demand of interested applicants; 
  3. The shortage of physicians in the country may be reduced thanks to more applicants pursuing a medical career. 

The ‘Fauci Effect’

Some experts have been calling this surge the Fauci Effect, inspired by the leadership and dedication exuded by Dr. Anthony Fauci during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is similar to the events of September 11, which caused a surge of Americans to join police, fire, and military forces. 

“That, I think, may have a lot to do with the fact that people look at Anthony Fauci, look at the doctors in their community and say, ‘You know, that is amazing. This is a way for me to make a difference,'” said Kristen Goodell, associate dean of admissions at the school of medicine at Boston University, to NPR.3

Fauci said he sees the flood of medical school applicants as a sign that people are thinking about social justice — “that you have responsibility not only to yourself, but as an integral part of society.”3

However, many of these programs are difficult to get accepted into, and aspiring students with limited resources may find it difficult to apply–let alone be accepted–to these programs. This has prompted many medical school executives and deans to reassess the application and testing process to allow students of various backgrounds the opportunity to attend a medical program. 

MedSchool Application Revised

Some medical schools have waived the necessary MCAT in order to be admitted to medical programs in the country. If an aspiring student wishes to apply to medical school but is currently suffering from COVID-19-related symptoms, they do not have to meet the MCAT requirement. Schools like UCSF took a holistic approach to admissions and looked at all metrics, including GPA, who the person is, and the person’s career intention.2

“A small number of students, we felt comfortable enough with other metrics we had on them that we were able to offer them admission,” said  Catherine Reinis Lucey, MD, executive vice dean and vice dean for education at the UCSF School of Medicine. “It turned out to be less of a problem than people thought, because a lot of people had already been preparing for exams when the pandemic and stay-at-home orders hit.”

However, some programs haven’t been as lenient with these pandemic-related restrictions. NYU’s medical school takes a holistic approach and conducts multiple mini interviews and considers GPA and MCAT scores as just a portion of its application selection process–but it still requires the MCAT for admission. That’s because the school claims that the MCAT is a vital part in predicting an applicant’s performance in medical school and beyond. Most–if not all–medical school programs have conducted interviews virtually, such as Mass General Brigham..

Physician Not-So Shortage

With the threat of an increasing physician shortage, experts are hoping that the influx of students into medical schools will help curb the lack of physicians. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, with the current trend of physician retirement, the U.S. could face a shortage of between 54,100 and 139,000 physicians by 2033.4

The majority of medical schools now admit classes based on general medical interest, not a specific specialty. That’s because the way society is currently trending with Urgent Cares and Emergency Rooms at the forefront of providing general medicine, doctors need to be well-versed in all different types of therapeutic areas. Thus the purpose is to grow a body of individuals who can practice medicine in any form, not just pigeon-hole them into a niche profession. 

Many programs now also train students in both the physician and scientist professions to grow both workforces, and many schools are directed at addressing the unmet needs for care in specialized populations, such as underprivileged or rural areas of the country. Additionally, programs designed to treat lower-class populations in urban areas have become more popular, especially as more aspiring students are interested in correcting some of the health disparities currently facing our country. 

“[Everyone entering medical school] feels some sort of responsibility,” said Mary Grace Kelley, an aspiring medical school student from the Boston suburbs. “We are basically the next generation. We’re going to be taking care of our parents, grandparents. So there’s definitely a call to arms thinking that, if there’s another pandemic, it’ll be up to us.”3


  1. Brody L. Medical schools are getting flooded with applicants. The Wall Street Journal. Published April 30, 2021. Accessed May 18, 2021. 
  2. Mitchell H, Gooch K. Top medical schools report surges in applications, changes in strategy after pandemic. Becker’s Hospital Review. Published April 19, 2021. Accessed May 18, 2021. 
  3. Marcus J. ‘Fauci Effect’ drives record number of medical school applications. NPR. Published December 7, 2020. Accessed May 18, 2021. 
  4. IHS Markit Ltd. The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections From 2018 to 2033. Association of American Medical Colleges. Published June 2020. Accessed May 18, 2021.

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