AUSTIN (KXAN) — As front line healthcare workers continue to fight COVID-19, medical schools are seeing a record-breaking amount of applications.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), applicants increased by 18% this year. They’ve tracked a year-over-year increase of less than 3% for the past decade.
The spike has gained a nickname: “The Fauci Effect.”
Dr. Geoffrey Young, Senior Director of Student Affairs and Programs for AAMC, said they have heard from students who are inspired by the nation’s top doctor, calling him a “role model.”
“His integrity and his reliance on science is significant,” he said. “Then when you couple that and combine that with the fact that our health care workers — not only physicians, but nurses, techs, PA’s — those that are really caring for those that are dying from COVID-19 is a noble and honorable thing,” he said.
He noted the increase was also “significant” in avoiding a shortage of physicians in the future.
This summer, AAMC published data revealing the United States could see an shortage of between 54,100 and 139,000 physicians by 2033.
At the time, AAMC President and CEO Dr. David J. Skorton said, “The gap between the country’s increasing health care demands and the supply of doctors to adequately respond has become more evident as we continue to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenge of having enough doctors to serve our communities will get even worse as the nation’s population continues to grow and age.”
Young said it is heartening to see a “pipeline” of future physicians interested in the career at such a critical time.
Still, he thinks many of the interested applicants have long considered a medical career.
“It’s just something I’ve really always wanted,” Cabrina Becker said, explaining her decision to study biology and psychology, in addition to her pre-med courses at the University of Texas at Austin.
As an older sister, caring for others came naturally.
“Taking care of them if they were sick, making them food, making sure they got dressed on time in the morning,” she laughed.
As a first generation college student, navigating the in’s and out’s of medical school applications was especially difficult. Plus, she and her fellow students juggled virtual classes and an MCAT exam that was rescheduled several times this year.
“So, Junior year was pretty tough,” Becker said. “Studying for the MCAT was probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.”
Still, she achieved her goal and was accepted by her “first choice” –McGovern Medical School in Houston. The pandemic also helped her realize her passion for providing care in underserved communities. She’s even considering an additional degree in Public Health.
“There are a lot of crazy disparities, and it’s up to us to make sure that doesn’t continue to happen,” Becker said.
Dr. Young also acknowledged the increase in applications could also be affected by a feeling of uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
“Medicine really remains a very solid profession — one that will enable individuals the ability to really make a significant contribution and impacting, you know, the lives of others,” he said. “We also recognize that when there may be a downturn in the economy, individuals may say, ‘Well, let me go with something that we know — or that I know — that I’ll have a job.”
The influx of new physicians could help fortify the healthcare workforce in rural parts of Texas, as well.
Dr. Young urged hospitals and schools in those areas to start recruiting and connecting with students early in their academic career.
“What we find is that if you come from a rural environment, then you may be more likely to return to a rural environment to provide care,” he said. “The hope is they will remain committed to serving that underserved population.”