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How the Pandemic Has Inspired A Growing Number of Students to Pursue Medicine at Top US Universities

JAN 01, 2021 • 7 min read

The effects of COVID-19 have rippled through our society in countless unexpected ways, with few positives — but inspiring young people to chase their dreams in medical school is one gleaming silver lining.

Some events define a generation. The tragedy of September 11th shook the world to its core and led to a marked increase in the number of men and women entering the military. The devastation of the Great Recession correlated with more students entering and remaining in higher education. And now the COVID-19 pandemic seems set to have a similar effect, with more and more young people realizing just how crucial medicine is to us all and choosing to study the subject as a result.

Dubbed “The Fauci Effect” by school admissions officers, 2020 has seen medical school applications in the US rise by 18% this year over last year — the greatest leap in over a decade — with some schools such as Stanford University’s School of Medicine seeing jumps as high as 50%. These trends have sparked conversations in the media and beyond about what is driving students to pursue degrees in medicine. Here are some key observations:

  1. Public health figures are inspiring young people worldwide

There is no doubt that the heroes of this pandemic are the essential workers who risk their health to keep us all safe. It would be hard not to be inspired by medical workers during this time — both those providing direct assistance to communities and those in leadership positions, like the director of the United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been described as one of the most trusted medical figures in the US.

In the words of Kristen Goodell, Associate Dean of admissions at Boston University’s School of Medicine, “People look at Anthony Fauci, look at the doctors in their community and say, 'You know, that is amazing. This is a way for me to make a difference.'” While Dr. Fauci himself may shy away from the credit, young people with dreams of leaving a lasting impact on the global community certainly could look at figures like him and see a career in medicine as a way to do just that.

  1. More time and flexibility have made applications more manageable

In previous years, potential students have had to balance the time needed to apply for university with other responsibilities: academics, extracurriculars, community activities, and personal lives. For obvious reasons, this year has given students more time to consider options that may have previously seemed out of reach — such as applying to med school — and, by extension, to put those ambitious plans into action.

Additionally, some parts of the med school application process have become more lenient in the face of the pandemic. For example, in response to social distancing requirements and the cancelation of examinations, the Association of American Medical Colleges decided to reformat the MCAT exam by shortening it from 7.5 hours to 5.75 hours for the rest of this testing season. There have also been extension deadlines and some schools, such as the medical schools at Stanford University and the University of Washington, have gone so far as to drop the requirement entirely.

  1. Students are growing even more aware of how necessary these jobs will be in the future

With a world-changing event like a global pandemic, the necessity of medical professionals has become even clearer. Barriers that previously seemed too great to overcome, such as the staggering $241,560 average student loan debt for med school graduates, are now being overcome as people realize just how necessary these careers are and will continue to be. This comes both from students accepting this burden in the hopes of a stable career and at least in part from schools like The New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, which announced in 2018 that it would make medical school free and is now set to exceed its application total from a year ago. Sam Smith, a University of Colorado grad, told NPR that this year “makes me think, there's probably going to be another pandemic” and we all want to be better prepared if history does indeed repeat itself.

This year has also highlighted shortcomings in the medical system that need to be remedied. It is reported that more than two out of every five doctors now practicing will reach retirement age in the next 10 years, leading to a shortage of 54,100-139,000 physicians by 2033. Many have also observed rampant racial disparities in the healthcare system exemplified by the far higher COVID case and death figures for black people than white people. It is clear that our medical system needs to be more expansive, robust, and representative — and students realize this and are doing what they can to make sure it happens.

Although med school may seem like a far-off goal for many high school students, at Crimson we’ve observed an uptick in pre-med interests from incoming undergraduates as well. A career in medicine takes years to arrive at, but with the right resources, it can be well worth your while.

Are you wondering where to start on the path to med school? For students looking to leave their mark on the world like the public health figures helping us tackle the worst global health crisis in decades, Crimson can help. From identifying a roadmap to executing each step, we’re here to help get you where you want to go. To learn more, click the link below and schedule a free one-hour consultation with one of our Academic Advisors.

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