It’s a quantifiable fact – the medical field has always been a male-dominated one. But change may be underway. The latest statistics, released by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) in December, show that females make up 50.7 percent of the 21,338 students entering medical school in 2017. That’s up from 49.8 percent in 2016 and just enough to finally tip the scales.
Mind you, men still make up 51 percent of the current total enrollment in US medical schools, but the number of women applying to medical school has been on the rise in recent years, while the number of male applicants has declined. In 2017, female enrollment increased by 3.2 percent, while male enrollees fell by 0.3 percent. And since 2015, female enrollment has risen four percent while it’s declined 6.7 percent for males.
Though the figures themselves may seem negligible, what they represent is history-making. When Elizabeth Blackwell, first began applying to medical schools back in 1847, she received rejection after rejection – 29 total from every medical college in Philadelphia and New York. When she finally received a yes from the lesser known Geneva Medical College in western New York State, the elated young woman had no idea that her acceptance had been meant as a joke.
Soon after beginning classes, she learned that college administrators let students decide whether to allow a woman admission and the young men who voted thought it would be fun to watch a woman fail. In fact, the idea of a woman studying medicine at the time was such an aberration that locals reportedly would stop and stare at her as she went about town, calling her immoral or even insane.
Despite the blatant prejudice and her fellow students’ expectations of failure, Blackwell persisted and, in January 1849, received her medical degree, graduating at the top of her class. Still, the medical community shunned her and it would take nearly five years and several international moves before she opened her own practice, the New York Dispensary for Poor Women and Children, out of a rented Jersey City room. Later joined by her sister, who received her own medical degree in 1853 and Dr. Marie E. Zakrzewska, a trained midwife from Berlin, Blackwell co-founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, still operating and known today as the Beekman Downtown Hospital.
“We are very encouraged by the growing number of women enrolling in US medical schools,” wrote Darrell G. Kirch, MD, AAMC CEO and president in a statement. “This year’s matriculating class demonstrates that medicine is an increasingly attractive career for women and that medical schools are creating an inclusive environment.”
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