MEDICAL SCHOOLS: Applications Down Again, But Why?
According to a study published in last week's Journal of the American Medical Association, applications to medical schools are significantly slipping this year for the third year in a row. In 1996, a record 46,968 aspiring doctors applied for 16,200 openings at 125 medical schools. By 1998, applications had slipped about 12% to just 41,004. And although 1999 figures are not available, researchers estimate a further drop of 2,000 applications from May 1998 to May 1999. Some believe the decline is cyclical, corresponding to similar dips in the 1970s and 1980s "in prosperous times when students had more options for high- paying careers," the New York Times reports. Another theory is that students may be discouraged from embarking on careers in medicine by "complaints by doctors of excessive paperwork and a loss of autonomy brought on by the growth of managed care." Study author Barbara Barzansky, Ph.D., director of medical schools services for the American Medical Association, downplayed worries over the decrease in applications, noting that medical schools are still attracting two or three applicants per available slot and that there is "no indication the quality of candidates" is slipping.
Minority Applicants on Decline
The number of minorities submitting applications has slipped almost 13% since 1996, Dr. Barzansky said. This drop prompts particular concern in that it comes despite an aggressive recruiting blitz by many schools. One explanation might be that publicity surrounding affirmative action debates may be leading minority students to believe that fewer openings are available. Barzansky warns about the future effects if such a trend continues: "Students who are from minority groups are more likely to serve minority groups. In addition, there is a feeling a diverse student body is considered a good learning experience for everybody."
Too Many Doctors, Anyway?
Susan Pisano, spokeswoman for the American Association of Health Plans, dismissed blaming managed care as "too simplistic." She predicted that students interested in medicine "will not be daunted by the challenges" of managed care, and suggested instead that the problem may lie in an oversupply of doctors. The New York Times recalls a JAMA study last year that reported 25% of doctors who had recently completed residency training had trouble finding work (Archibold, 9/2).