Record numbers of students are applying for and entering medical school this year, including the largest number of blacks and Hispanics ever, says the group that represents U.S. medical schools.
At the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Health Sciences University, the number of Hispanic first-year students increased but the number of blacks decreased by nearly half compared with the previous year.
Though the increases nationally are good, unless there is an increase in residency slots, the number of doctors will not grow to meet a looming shortage, the Association of American Medical Colleges warned Tuesday.
Dr. Darrell G. Kirch, the president and CEO of the association and a former dean of MCG, said the group is pleased to see “strong increases” among minority applicants and enrollees.
“In terms of this racial and ethnic diversity, we really saw solid gains among applicants and enrollees among all of the under-represented groups,” he said. “We see this as a direct reflection of how hard our schools are working to achieve that diversity.”
The number of Hispanics enrolled in medical school nationally increased 6 percent over last year, with the number of blacks increasing 3 percent and the number of Asians increasing 5 percent, according to analysis of the data by The Augusta Chronicle.
At MCG, with relatively small numbers of Hispanic and black students, the shifts were more dramatic. Hispanics went from 9 to 12 in 2012, an increase of 33 percent, while blacks went from 17 to 9, a decrease of 47 percent, according to Chronicle data. Hispanics make up 5.2 percent of the 2012 class at MCG, compared with 8.9 percent nationally, while blacks make up 3.9 percent compared with 7.2 percent nationally.
The numbers nationally and at MCG can be skewed because students could self-identify with more than one race or in some cases did not choose any, though the numbers in those categories are small.
Overall, the number of first-year applicants increased to a record 33,772 and the number of enrollees in U.S. medical schools reached an all-time high of 19,517.
Diversity among medical students and physicians is important in light of changing demographics in the country, Kirch said.
“The reality is the American population is becoming more diverse and we need the physician population to reflect that,” he said.
Diversity is important for many reasons, said Dr. Kimberly Vess Halbur, the associate dean for diversity affairs at MCG.
“I think we need to have a diverse environment primarily because our patient population is diverse but secondarily because the research shows that when we do have a diverse group of students that the learning outcomes for all students is enhanced,” she said.
Kirch praised MCG’s outreach program to high school students, but the medical school is reaching out now to middle school students and younger to help spark their interest in medical careers, Halbur said.
“They start forming ideas (before high school) about what they want to do, taking classes and seeking summer experiences based on what they perceive to be their interests at that time,” she said.
With more medical schools opening and existing schools increasing enrollment, the number of medical students is projected to reach the requested 30 percent increase by 2016, Kirch said. That is to try to address a doctor shortage that will exceed 90,000 by 2020, he said. But Congress in 1997 capped the number of federally supported residency slots, the required training positions needed for skills development and licensure, and those numbers will soon be inadequate and are already making it difficult for students to find positions in places such as Georgia and Florida, Kirch said.
“Unless Congress acts soon, there won’t be enough positions for all of these new doctors to finish their training and actually be able to go out and practice in our communities,” he said. Bipartisan legislation that would create 15,000 slots has been filed in the U.S. House.