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December 21, 2017

Women outnumber men as first-year med students for first time ever

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    For the first time, more women than men enrolled in U.S. medical schools, according to 2017 data released by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

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    Details on data

    According to the data, women made up 50.7% of the more than 21,000 first-year enrollees to medical schools in 2017—up from 49.8% in 2016. The number of women enrolling as first-year medical students in 2017 increased by 3.2% while the number of male matriculants fell by 0.3%, AAMC said.

    Overall, the number of new medical students in the United States is up by 1.5%, with total enrollment at 89,904 students.

    And while men still made up a majority of the total medical school enrollment in the United States (51%), the number of women enrolling in medical school has been steadily rising, while the number of men enrolling has been falling, AAMC said. AAMC data show the number of female enrollees has increased by 9.6% since 2015, while the number of male enrollees has decreased by 2.3%.

    Further, the number of female applicants to medical school has increased by 4% since 2015, while the number of male applicants has declined by 6.7% over the same time period, according to AAMC. (Although male applicants still outnumbered female applicants in 2017, with men accounting for 50.4% of applications.)

    That said, AAMC noted that the number of applicants to medical school overall fell by 2.6% from 2016 to 2017—marking the largest decline in 15 years. And despite the decline in applicants in 2017, AAMC notes that the total number of applicants to medical school has increased by over 50% since 2002—and that the number of matriculants has increased by almost 30% over the past 15 years.

    A step forward—but more needs to be done, AAMC says

    Darrell Kirch, the president and CEO of AAMC, said of the data, "We are very encouraged by the growing number of women enrolling in U.S. medical schools," He added, "This year's matriculating class demonstrates that medicine is an increasingly attractive career for women and that medical schools are creating an inclusive environment. While we have much more work to do to attain broader diversity among our students, faculty, and leadership, this is a notable milestone."

    However, Kirch also expressed concern about the anticipated physician shortage, noting that "while expanding medical school enrollment is a very positive trend, it alone will not lead to an increase in the supply of practicing physicians to address the coming doctor shortage." He said, "For that to happen, Congress must lift the cap on federal support for medical residency positions it enacted 20 years ago. Bipartisan legislation to increase federal support for residency training has been introduced in both the House and Senate. Given our growing and aging population, the AAMC urges Congress to pass this legislation so that future patients will have access to the care they'll need."

    A noticeable trend

    This demographic shift represents a growing trend in physicians' priorities, Modern Healthcare reports. Many physicians now say having a good work-life balance is a top priority, and a recent survey from AAMC found that 47% of first-year medical school students said a work-life balance is their top consideration when starting their career. Prospective employers have responded in kind to the trend, Modern Healthcare reports, using flexible work hours as incentives for prospective physicians.

    Kimberly Templeton, former president of the American Medical Women's Association, said she hopes that the increase in female medical school students will lead to more discussion about the issues affecting women in health care, including burnout—which she said affects female physicians more commonly than male physicians—the lack of female physicians in leadership positions, and sexual harassment. "It is more of an issue when more and more of the people who are being impacted by this are part of the health care workforce," she said (Johnson, Modern Healthcare, 12/18; Paavola, Becker's Hospital Review, 12/18; Brooks, Medscape, 12/19).

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