In a healthcare industry first, more women than men enrolled in medical school in 2017

The overall incoming class among U.S. medical students in 2017 contains more women than men. That marks a first for the industry.

According to the latest data released by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the number of new female students enrolling in U.S. medical schools ticked up just over 3% while the number of male students declined slightly, extending trends seen since 2015. This year, that was enough to tip the balance of matriculating students toward women to 50.7%.

AAMC President and CEO Darrel G. Kirch, M.D., hailed the news as an encouraging sign.

“This year’s matriculating class demonstrates that medicine is an increasingly attractive career for women and that medical schools are creating an inclusive environment,” he said.

Still, the encouraging stats comes at a time when the industry continues its stubborn resistance to pay equality between men and women, which also persists among physician assistants and nurses.

Introducing more female doctors to the physician leadership pipeline could generate the necessary pressure to mitigate that issue in the future. That trend could also have a positive effect on patients down the line, as a recent study suggests female surgeons produce slightly better survival rates among their patients after surgery.

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Diversity also increased across medical schools, with a two-year rise of nearly 13% among black or African American enrollment and an increase of just over 15% among Hispanic, Latino or Spanish matriculants.

Despite encouraging enrollment numbers, the applicant pool suffered its largest decrease in 15 years, echoing smaller declines in 2002 and 2008. The number of men applying to medical school barely outstripped the number of females, at 50.4%.

Kirch also noted that the positive enrollment trends will not be enough to mitigate the expected physician shortage. To reduce the strain on the supply of future physicians, he and the AAMC continue to urge Congress to pass legislation lifting the current cap on the amount of federal support provided for medical residency positions.