Medical School Enrollment Continues to Rise to Meet Physician Need

Washington, D.C., October 20, 2009-Enrollment in both new and existing U.S. medical schools continues to expand to meet the nation's need for more doctors, according to data released today by the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges). First-year enrollment in the nation's medical schools rose this year by 2 percent over 2008 to nearly 18,400 students.

Four new U.S. medical schools-FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, The Commonwealth Medical College, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Paul L. Foster School of Medicine, and the University of Central Florida College of Medicine-seated their first entering classes this year, accounting for half of the 2009 enrollment increase. In addition, 12 existing medical schools expanded their 2009 class size by 7 percent or more. (See chart "U.S. Medical School Expansion, 2009" for more information.)

"The nation's medical schools are working hard to meet the growing demand for more physicians by boosting their enrollment," said AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, M.D. "But we must also increase the number of residency training slots to prevent a bottleneck in the pipeline of new physicians, and ensure access to care for the millions of Americans who hopefully will attain coverage under health care reform."

Expansion in medical school enrollment as well as graduate medical education, or "residency" training positions is needed to avert an expected shortage of 124,000 to 159,000 physicians by 2025. As a result, the AAMC supports the "Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act" (S.973/H.R.2251), which increases the number of Medicare-supported training positions for medical residents by 15 percent (approximately 15,000 slots). None of the reform bills currently before Congress includes more Medicare funding for graduate medical education positions. Instead, both the House and Senate legislation would redistribute about 1,000 unused residency training slots among a small group of targeted states.

This year's AAMC data also indicated that the pool of medical school applicants remained stable at 42,269, a slight increase over 2008's total of 42,231 applicants. Some other highlights:

  • Male applicants (22,014) to U.S. medical schools continued to outnumber female applicants (20,252) in 2009.
  • The percentage of male enrollees also topped female enrollees in the 2009 entering class by 52 to 48 percent, although the number of women attending medical school has grown steadily since 1992.
  • The number of black/African American applicants increased to 3,482 (4 percent over 2008), and this year's entering class had the largest number of black/African American enrollees (1,312 or 7 percent) since 1999.
  • Hispanic/Latino applicant numbers dropped to 3,061, a 1 percent decrease from 2008's total of 3,086; the enrollees in this group also declined slightly to 1,412 from 1,416 last year.
  • American Indian applicants fell 5 percent to 379 from 400 in 2008, and the number of enrollees also dropped to 153 from 172 in 2008 (11 percent).

It is unlikely that the current recession had an effect on the number of applicants to this year's entering class because these individuals applied to medical school between June and September of 2008. Despite the nation's ongoing financial difficulties, early indicators such as the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT®), suggest that next year's medical school applicant pool will continue to edge upward. From January to August of this year, more than 67,000 individuals took the MCAT exam, a nearly 3 percent increase over 2008.

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