Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Med School Applications at Record High. What Does It Mean?

MedPage Today featured a report released by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) stating that first-time medical school applications have reached a record high. There were 32,654 applicants for 19,000 first-year positions this year. Including people who have applied before, the number of applicants was 43,919.

My initial reaction to this news was, “I wonder why?” Physicians are taking hits from all sides. We make too many mistakes; we make too much money; we work too many hours; malpractice insurance premiums keep rising; reimbursement rates are falling; we don’t follow guidelines. I could go on.

But then I scrolled down to the comments section and found this from someone named “paramedic_t”:

You can't go to law school! The market is supersaturated with unemployed lawyers. Where else do you look?

I realize this is only one comment and there were almost 44,000 med school applicants. But should medical school be a career choice based on, “Where else do you look?”? I predict that this applicant, should he be accepted, will neither be happy with nor enthusiastic about his situation. I know a lot of people who love medicine with a passion who are disillusioned and burned out. I can’t see how “paramedic_t” will succeed. Even if he does, would you want him as your doctor?

Let’s put this medical school application business in perspective. While med school applications are increasing, the ratio of applicants to slots pales in comparison to applications the undergraduate college of US News’s #1 school Harvard University [94,000 applicants, 6641 (7%) in freshman class] or even #50 George Washington University [32,368 applicants, 10358 (32%) in freshman class].

So I’m not sure what it means. Does it mean that medicine is such an attractive career that people just can’t wait to spend a minimum of seven years after college, making peanuts and working hard to enter a career with an uncertain future? Or is it simply about, “Where else do you look?”


Vickie said...

Seems like it's not the smartest place to look for someone who isn't very passionate about having a career as a doctor. That's a lot of time and money to invest.

Sam Ko, MD, MBA said...

The economy is tanking. There's an inverse correlation between med school application numbers and financial health of the US.

Also, we do have an awesome job!

Anonymous said...

They'll do that first, soon realize the "oops", then go the RN route, or PA route. They will find that those are saturated now too, and have been since 2007. It's all because of the highly advertised "shortage" of docs. Kind of like the still highly advertised "shortage" of RNs. These "shortages" are not real. I hope these people understand this before they ruin themselves and their families financially.


Skeptical Scalpel said...

I disagree. The shortage of MDs is real, especially general surgeons. You've seen this before but take another look. http://is.gd/LG5HWz

Anonymous said...

Yes I guess I did see that before :) In this world nobody will be as shocked about the lack of quality care as much as those who have the ability/need to give it. Simply nobody understands (except us). The corporations who own us think they've got us and healthcare all figured out. So, not to worry Scalpel.


Jester4023_Photography said...

Another major contributor comes if you look at smaller high schools. Honestly, the career guidance is APPALING! If someone excels at science, the automatic career choice is medicine, even though 50% of them have the bedside manner of my left foot...

Anonymous said...

Here are some reasons why the applicant number might be climbing, even if the number of passionate caregiver-types is constant:

1. Parents urge underclassmen to take premed classes, which are easy compared to advanced science classes, as the safe route. So students knock them out and can apply. Parents are worried about jobs.

2. Finance/ibanking/law is looking unstable, so expect more risk-averse Ivy grads in medicine. Same for other top schools. But honestly, many of the smartest of the ivy bunch will still do ibanking and consulting.

3. IT/compsci/engineering is looking unstable and outsource-able. There are jobs, but students doubt their value or growth-potential.

Medicine may not be the pot o' gold it once was in the 70s-80s. But it can feed a family and provide a fulfilling career; everything else looks uncertain and/or uninteresting. We kids live in a very different world than boomers. Options are few, so we pick the best we can. Debt free and making 150k+ by age 40 with a stable medical job? Sounds great.

There seems to be a question of whether the additional applicants are truly interested in medicine. Some may be under-prepared and fail. But medicine will also grab more of the extremely smart kids in engineering, math, physics, and chem. That's bad for America, but arguably good for their future patients.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

@Jester-Thanks. Agree.

@Anonymous-Interesting to hear that pre-med is easy. It wasn't when I was in college. Organic chemistry weeded out the pretenders. We also had to take zoology, physical chemistry and physics. These were the same courses that the chem and physics majors took.

Regarding the pot o' gold, you may want to read this http://lnkd.in/XvnXzg.

Anonymous said...

Nice link--some of the salaries are impressive--but read the UPDATE at the bottom of the page:

"Medicine just became a much more desirable profession, thanks to the economic crash that devastated our economy in 2008. The profession of medicine offers one thing—job security—that is nice in good times but as precious as gold in bad times. I needn't remind you that things are bad now, and almost certain to get much worse (if you doubt that, read this). When times change, it is important to change with the times. I've used a lot of ink warning students in the past about the drawbacks of a medical career, and all of those reasons were quite valid. The cons are still there, but the list of pros just mushroomed in importance thanks to the inherent job security in most medical careers. Good luck trying to find another career that offers comparable job security."

Also, a lot of the points on that page are deceiving. Just because a personal trainer or hot-dog seller or makes X dollars an hour does not mean they can make 40*X by working 40 hours a week. People don't buy hot dogs continuously throughout the day for 40 hours/week, and trainers may be under-booked during most business hours, etc. ER docs like the writer are certainly overbooked, but they also tend to burn out fast (a family member of mine included).

Or we could all go become ice-truckers in Alaska. And strip at club in our spare time. Man, ice-trucking strippers, that's pretty awesome. Solid options, though, for people who only want money out of life.

But for those of us with a soft spot for sick people, a love of books, a confident manner, and mad memorizing abilities (>40 MCAT), there's still nothing better than medicine.

As for course difficulty, the pre-med courses may be 'hard' at regular colleges, but at Harvard/Yale/Stanford they are pretty chill because the really smart kids, like top 0.01% of the population, do pure math, econ, and harder science classes. I always tested better than the bio-major premeds in orgo and physics, but I was just a middle-of-the-road econ major and scored average in classes full of future Wall Streeters and McKinsey consultants.

Reflex Hammer said...

I like the post, but I take some issue with your math at the very end.

Stanford's medical school takes less than 3% of applicants, while its undergrad takes about 7% of applicants.

GWU and Harvard's medical schools also have much lower acceptance rates than do their undergraduate institutions.

The problem is that you are comparing the total number of med school applicants vs. number of slots on the one hand, and on the other, total number of applicants to a particular undergrad vs. number of slots. Applicants apply to multiple schools but can only pick one.

Skeptical Scalpel said...


I understand your point. As I stated in the post, there are some 43,000 med school applicants for 19,000 spots. That means about 44% of those who apply will be accepted. Many of those who don't get into a US med school will go to an offshore school. I don't think it's that hard to get into med school.

Reflex Hammer said...

Interesting. That 19,000 figure doesn't include DO schools, which probably contribute over 1,000 spots. So medicine really might not be as competitive as I thought.

Skeptical Scalpel said...


Thanks for the comment. I think my math is correct. It's not really that competitive.

Lindsay said...

You don't think that person making the "you can't go to law school!" comment may have been being slightly sarcastic...?

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Dear Anonymous,

You are correct that I'm not in medical school nor am I applying.

My math may be wrong, but "youre" spelling is wrong. Here are the apostrophes that are missing from your comment: '''.

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