More Med Students

October 26, 2005

More than 17,000 students started medical school this fall, up 2.1 percent from last year and a new record for enrollments.

The figures -- released by the Association of American Medical Colleges -- come at a time that the group is trying to expand and diversify enrollments. In terms of diversity, enrollments and applications are showing increases for all ethnic groups except for African Americans, whose figures are flat.

Jordan J. Cohen, president of the medical college group, said he was particularly encouraged by the large enrollment increases pulled off by a number of colleges. Enrollments are up by at least 5 percent at 22 of the 125 medical schools in the United States, and they are up by more than 10 percent at 7 schools. Florida State University led the nation in percentage increase (38 percent), followed by Brown University at 20 percent.

Cohen stressed that increases in the numbers of applicants made it possible for medical schools to increase enrollments without decreasing the quality of students. He said that the enrollment increases were needed to deal with a population of M.D.'s that is about to retire and to meet demands for more doctors in fast-growing parts of the country.

Total applications this year -- 37,364 -- lag behind where they were a decade ago, but this is the third consecutive year in which applications increased, following six years of decreases.

Of the 17,004 first-year medical students this year, 61 percent are white, and Cohen said that he was pleased with the overall trend of educating a more diverse student body. But he acknowledged a mixed record of success. Applications and enrollments continue to rise for Asian and Latino students, but both figures are flat for black students. In first-year medical classes, black students make up only 6 percent over all, and large black enrollments at three historically black medical colleges mean that the percentage in many other medical schools is even smaller.

Black women make up about 70 percent of black applicants to medical school. (Among all groups, men and women now apply and enroll in roughly equal numbers.)

Cohen said that he was concerned about the trends with black enrollments and that medical colleges needed to do more outreach as well as to examine their admissions criteria to make sure that they were not missing out on students who might have lower test scores or grades but who could do well as medical students and physicians.

Data from the AAMC show significant gaps in the grade point averages and test scores of applicants to medical school, and of those enrolling, by race and ethnicity. For example, the GPA in science courses of black medical schools applicants was 2.97, compared to 3.11 for Mexican Americans, 3.37 for Asians, and 3.44 for whites.

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