In new milestone, the majority of U.S. medical students are now women

hospital doctor with patient
For the first time, women now comprise the majority of enrolled U.S. medical students. (monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images)

Female medical students have hit a milestone.

They now comprise the majority of enrolled U.S. medical students for the first time, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

The 2019 data (PDF) released Tuesday build on the milestone reached in 2017 when women comprised the majority of first-year medical students, the AAMC said.

Now, in 2019, women comprise 50.5% of all medical school students, the data showed. That number has been increasing in recent years from 46.9% in 2015 to 49.5% in 2018.

The data also showed modest gains by U.S. medical schools in attracting and enrolling more racially and ethnically diverse students, the AAMC said, although these groups are still underrepresented in the physician workforce.

“The steady gains in the medical school enrollment of women are a very positive trend, and we are delighted to see this progress,” said David Skorton, M.D., AAMC president and CEO, in an announcement.

“However, the modest increases in enrollment among underrepresented groups are simply not enough. We cannot accept this as the status quo and must do more to educate and train a more diverse physician workforce to care for a more diverse America,” he said.

While the statistics are encouraging for women, study after study shows female physicians still earn less—sometimes a lot less—than their male counterparts. That salary gap extends to racial pay disparity in medicine. Studies show that a racial imbalance in wages has been a pervasive issue that exists among physicians in the same medical specialty.

RELATED: Salary negotiations—Advice for female physicians who want equitable pay

This year also saw a record number of applicants to medical schools, which was up by 1.1% from 2018 to 2019. Some 53,371 people applied to medical school, and the number of new enrollees grew by 1.1% to 21,869. Across applicants and matriculants, the number of women increased while the number of men declined, the AAMC said.

Medical schools saw small increases in minority students. The AAMC released the following statistics:

  • Applicants who are Hispanic, Latino or of Spanish origin increased 5.1% to 5,858, and matriculants from this group grew 6.3% to 2,466.
     
  • The number of black or African American applicants rose 0.6% to 5,193, and matriculants increased by 3.2% to 1,916. Among black or African American men, applicants and matriculants increased 0.5%, and the total enrollment of black or African American men rose 3.7% to 3,189.
     
  • American Indian or Alaska Native applicants grew by 4.8% to 586, and matriculants rose 5.5% to 230.

The growth in the number of medical school applicants shows interest in a career in medicine remains high, important as the nation faces a shortage of physicians that the AAMC projects could reach 122,000 doctors by 2030.

To help address the shortage, medical schools have expanded class sizes, 20 new schools have opened in the past decade and the total number of enrolled medical students has grown by 33% since 2002, the AAMC said.

RELATED: 3 ways doctors say can help break the 'fiberglass ceiling' and close the startling gender pay gap

The organization once again called for Congress to increase the number of federally funded residency training positions to produce more doctors to meet the needs of a growing and aging population. The AAMC supports bipartisan legislation that would add 15,000 residency slots over five years to ensure all patients have access to the care they need.

Enrollment in medical schools remained competitive. Medical school students in 2019 had an average undergraduate grade point average of 3.78. Enrollees range in age from 15 to 53, and 131 are military veterans. Additionally, this year’s entering class demonstrates a strong commitment to service, cumulatively performing more than 14 million community service hours.

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