As the world continues to battle the deadly spread of COVID-19 and the coronavirus, there may be one positive outcome: a surge in interest in medical school at a time when trained physicians are needed more than ever. On May 6, when the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) opened up MCAT registration, 62,000 people registered online – more than five times the 10,000-12,000 recorded on the first day of registration last year, said Chief Services Officer Gabrielle Campbell.
The response was so significant that it initially crashed the system, delaying registration by several hours for tens of thousands of medical school hopefuls ready to take their tests. Opening had been postponed in March and April after state-mandated stay-at-home orders began to spread nationwide.
Meanwhile, registration for the American Medical College Application Service, which initiates applications to medical schools, saw a 50-percent increase over last year’s figures in the first three days after opening March 4.
“This doesn’t necessarily mean more people will be applying in this application year, but we’re cautiously optimistic about it,” Campbell said.
There’s much reason to be hopeful. The pandemic may well have exacerbated the much publicized, looming shortage of physicians predicted to surpass 120,000 by 2032. Research released in August shows that US medical school enrollment already has grown by 31 percent since the 2002-2003, the benchmark year upon which AAMC officials based its recommendation for a 30-percent increase in first-year enrollment in accredited medical schools. The MCAT and AMCAS surges are a welcome development.
“We’re very encouraged by students’ strong interest in registering for the MCAT exam,” said AAMC President and CEO David Skorton, MD. “We’re starting to see hints of strong interest in people entering the field overall, even though it’s quite early in the medical school application process. That is a great sign if that preliminary trend continues, because our country needs more doctors.”
Throughout the medical field, there is hope – and a degree of expectation – that many current and future medical students will choose to focus on infectious medicine research and treatment. Calling today a “decisive moment for students in healthcare fields around the world,” MD/PhD Candidate Jawara Allen encouraged fellow and future students to consider the niche.
“The impact of COVID-19 on the rising generation of doctors, scientists, and public health professionals is undeniable,” Allen wrote in a recent issue of The Journal of Infectious Diseases. “We are all part of, or connected to, communities impacted by COVID-19 today, but we are also all threatened by the next global pathogen of tomorrow. To protect those communities, we need more infectious disease specialists. I will be one of them. I call on others to join me.”
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