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Med schools are seeing historic high applications. Whether or not it's a 'Fauci effect,' it's much needed

Dr. Anthony Fauci has arguably become one of the most recognizable faces of 2020.And the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious...

Posted: Dec 18, 2020 2:02 PM

Dr. Anthony Fauci has arguably become one of the most recognizable faces of 2020.

And the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases may also be inspiring a new generation of aspiring doctors.

The number of students applying to medical school for the upcoming 2021 academic year is up by 18 % -- a huge spike compared to the previous year. It's also a record considering that the Association of American Medical Colleges usually sees an increase about 1 to 3 percent year over year.

"This kind of increase is unprecedented," said Geoffrey Young, the organization's senior director of student affairs and programs.

"I've communicated with several admissions departments at these medical schools whose own admissions departments are seeing an increase anywhere from 7 to 28%."

Informally, some med school officials are calling the spike the "Fauci Effect."

Just as the military saw a spike in enlistment after the 9/11 attacks, the motivating factor in this pandemic era could be the high regard Americans hold for health care professionals.

Chief among them is Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the lead members of the White House's coronavirus task force , who has emerged as the face of America's pandemic response -- and a bona fide celebrity.

From bobbleheads to candles, people have been buying out memorabilia bearing Fauci's likeness. There are Fauci cupcakes and Fauci doughnuts. In July, he received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights award. Movie stars hold private Zoom calls with him.

Fauci isn't the only reason

But Young doesn't think Fauci is solely responsible for these numbers.

Young believes the term "Fauci effect" first gained popularity when he and a dean of admissions at Boston University spoke to NPR about it earlier this month. It stuck.

"'Fauci Effect' isn't something that we coined," Young said. "Medical school students typically work on their portfolios for medical school for many years, but I do think that the visibility of front line and essential workers this year may have presented the noble cause that physicians provide."

Young also thinks that the switch to virtual learning, and concern over the job market may have also led more people to decide to go back to school.

America is heading toward a doctor shortage

The spike could be coming at the perfect time. The US needs to produce more doctors, because the proportion of physicians is expected to drastically drop by the thousands in the next decade.

"The patient population is increasing because people are living longer," Young said. "But the baby boomer generation is approaching retirement age."

Physicians and surgeons are already stretched thin. But by 2025, there will be nearly 103,000 new openings for these positions and a shortage of 11,000 skilled professionals for these roles, according to a 2018 study.

The numbers will just grow from there.

Increased enrollment won't fix everything

While this next generation of doctors could help fix this shortage, it'll take more than increased applications.
Med schools typically admit a small percentage of those who apply. Young expects the number to be around 18 percent for 2021.

Also, medical schools struggle to admit diverse applicants. The number of Black and Hispanic doctors are both in the single digits, at 8 and 7 percent respectively, according to the AAMC, and overall, Young says accepted students tend to be from higher income brackets.

"The data is complicated," Young said. "But we are able to see that the people matriculating to med schools tend to come from those two upper quartiles of wealth."

That, however, is slowly changing.

"The preliminary review indicates that we are seeing some increase in historically underrepresented groups, not just race and sex, but also older students, disabled students and those from rural or LGBTQ backgrounds," Young said.

While this year's numbers are notable, don't expect to see the same with the class that applies next year.

Young says his organization expects those numbers to go back to the mean.

The "Fauci Effect" may be great, but alas, it's not forever.

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 3563578

Reported Deaths: 51953
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles119089421328
Riverside2894503767
San Bernardino2862912816
Orange2610223904
San Diego2596413271
Santa Clara1104221777
Kern102627826
Fresno952021443
Sacramento931801472
Alameda804961241
Ventura77534844
San Joaquin665691101
Contra Costa62164674
Stanislaus56024946
Tulare47784758
Monterey42138328
San Mateo38922515
San Francisco34213410
Santa Barbara31763409
Solano30024164
Merced28915397
Sonoma28063298
Imperial26888591
Kings21951218
Placer19763232
San Luis Obispo19612227
Madera15436209
Santa Cruz14588183
Marin13136197
Yolo12816185
Shasta10972174
Butte10941160
El Dorado9095100
Napa901469
Sutter884597
San Benito575959
Yuba573336
Lassen560119
Tehama508152
Nevada395274
Tuolumne394659
Mendocino379643
Amador345741
Humboldt318033
Lake315341
Glenn222023
Colusa212813
Calaveras190547
Siskiyou174014
Inyo128737
Mono12114
Del Norte9875
Plumas6536
Modoc4524
Mariposa3957
Trinity3675
Sierra990
Alpine810
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