We all know the term “supply and demand,” right? Well, this might come as a shock, but it turns out the supply of medical school spots available has never been as high as the demand. Being the savvy pre-med student you are, this probably isn't news to you, but why is the applicant rate still so high if the number of available spots is so low?
During the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 cycles, we’ve seen an increase of around 10,000 applicants, leading to a 5-6% drop in the number of matriculations. In other words, there is more competition than ever, schools are more selective than ever, and an unusually high number of rejected applicants have been facing the prospect of reapplying.
Some scholars and journalists have called this the “Fauci Effect” – the idea that the prevalence of COVID-19 and the celebration of the physicians combating the issue have inspired a new wave of applicants to medical school. This new wave has likely included career changers and people who wouldn’t have applied under normal circumstances.
But is it merely just admiration for doctors and a sense of responsibility that have led to the increase in applications? Probably not. Here are a few other reasons to consider:
Spoiled Plans: For many students, their post-graduation plans were thrown into question, or worse, completely disrupted. Whether it was a postponed research project, a furloughed job as a scribe or medical assistant, or a canceled service obligation like AmeriCorps, COVID-19 undoubtedly pushed people to apply earlier than planned or take a new leap of faith.
Job Security: A lot of people inside and outside of medicine were deemed as non-essential, highlighting medicine as an even more stable, evergreen field where you will never be furloughed and always be in high demand.
Restless Boredom: This might sound like a strange reason to apply, but as the lockdowns prevented people from working and living their normal lives, they had plenty of time to ponder new dreams, make new plans, do career research, and fill out applications. As one student quoted in an NPR article put it, “This is a perfect time of no distractions.”
Being the Change They Want to See: This would especially apply for candidates who come from communities that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. They have likely seen inequities and a lack of proper representation during the pandemic, inspiring them to obtain the training and position needed to rectify these problems and effect meaningful change.
It’s hard to say how persistent this “Fauci Effect” will be, but our guess is that the stiff competition isn’t going away any time soon.
So, what are the major takeaways for you as a current or future applicant?
Find a Way to Stand Out: This might seem obvious, but it’s more important than ever. It’s not enough to just “check all the boxes.” If you’re looking for some inspiration, consider these unique activities or formulate your own Pre-Med Capstone Project.
Apply DO: Due to the competition, everyone’s application is now slightly weaker in relative comparison to the pack, both statistically and experientially. It’s likely in your best interest to apply to DO schools, even if that just means 5-10 additional schools on your list. But this also means that you’ll need to explore osteopathic medicine, shadow DOs, and get a letter from a DO.
Be a Statistical Juggernaut: No duh, right? This might be the most self-evident piece of advice, but the average GPA and MCAT are ticking up gradually across the board for all matriculants. So, don’t overbook your course schedule and don’t needlessly take classes with difficult professors, since medical schools only look at the bottom line in the end. And don’t rush the MCAT process. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to study, and ideally you should take the test in the summer before you apply. That way, you have time to retake if necessary and won’t be trying to take the MCAT while also finishing school, filling out applications, etc.
Get into the Trenches of Social Justice: COVID-19 revealed a lot of disparities and inequities in our society, making everyone (including medical schools) more sensitive to the plight of the underserved. Due to this increased conscientiousness, candidates will need to justify their privilege by paying it forward, and aiding the underserved will essentially become a prerequisite for medical school. Immersing yourself in social justice commitments will be imperative.
Focus on the Core Competencies: The 15 AAMC Core Competencies are a relatively new addition to the evaluation process for medical school applicants. They will become especially important moving forward, and competencies like Service Orientation, Cultural Competence, and Ethical Responsibility are particularly relevant to the COVID and post-COVID era.
Curious to hear more about COVID-19’s legacy on the admissions process? We’re not Nostradamus, but we feel pretty confident in these predictions.