This year’s applications to osteopathic medical schools are up 18% over last year, according to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), while applications to MD schools are up 17% year over year, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges.
While applications to medical school have been steadily increasing over the years, this is a dramatic spike compared to years past. Last year, DO schools saw a 5% increase in applicants from the year prior, Medscape reported. Applications to DO schools increased by nearly 79% from the 2008-2009 academic year to 2018-2019, according to MedPage Today.
Physicians’ central role during COVID-19
Experts say the pandemic is behind the increase, for a variety of reasons. One is prospective students are witnessing the important role physicians, including Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have played in helping patients and the public through this crisis. Medical school admissions officers have taken to calling the deluge of applications ‘The Fauci Effect,’ according to GBH.
In an interview with MedPage Today, Joseph Shapiro, a spokesperson for AACOM, hypothesized that the breadth of care that COVID-19 patients require may be drawing more students toward osteopathic medicine.
“Mind, body, and spirit has certainly been at the forefront as people are coping with COVID-19, whether being in quarantine or separated from family members,” he said.
Other likely reasons applicants are up
Many prospective med students typically take a gap year or two after undergrad and spend that time gaining experience in the medical field, working, traveling or conducting research, the GBH article noted. COVID-19 has curtailed some of these activities, which may have prompted students to apply earlier than they normally might have.
Admissions officials also say people are using the extra time available in quarantine to work on applications. Some applicants were likely inspired in part by some med schools’ decisions to waive the MCAT requirement for applications, according to GBH.
Social justice may be an additional motivating factor for some applicants this year, Kristen Goodell, associate dean of admissions at Boston University School of Medicine, told BU’s student newspaper.
“There are a lot of people who are humanitarians, who go to medical school,” Goodell said, “because what they want to do is to make the world a better place.”
Of course, an increase in applicants means an increase in competition. Sahil Mehta, MD, the founder of MedSchoolCoach, told Medscape that he expects the increase in applications to continue for years to come because of the spotlight on physicians during the pandemic.
“It’s going to be a competitive year and the general trend is that it will be more competitive in future years,” he said.