Medical school applications jump by 18% in US amid Covid-19 pandemic, is this the ‘Fauci effect’?

Some admission officers say that public health experts such as Dr Anthony Fauci have inspired the youth to join the medical profession

                            Medical school applications jump by 18% in US amid Covid-19 pandemic, is this the ‘Fauci effect’?
(Getty Images)

Applications to medical schools have increased in the US during the coronavirus pandemic in a trend that some are describing as the “Fauci effect,” referring to the example set by healthcare workers and public health experts such as Dr Anthony Fauci as a likely driving force. The number of applications has gone up by 18% this year as compared to 2019, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

The pandemic has put a spotlight on health professions. According to a report, the surge in people applying has become known as the “Fauci effect” among some school admissions officers, who believe that the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) has inspired the youth with his guidance on the coronavirus pandemic.

Stanford University School of Medicine saw a 50% spike, with 11,000 applying for 90 seats, while Boston University School of Medicine reported a 27% increase in students applying — 12,024 for about 110 seats. “That, I think, may have a lot to do with the fact that 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,’” Dr Kristen Goodell, associate dean of admissions at the Boston University School of Medicine told NPR.

While UC Davis School of Medicine in Sacramento had nearly 40% more applications, the College of Medicine at California Northstate University in Elk Grove said its applications went up by roughly 35% since last year. “We’ve seen a huge upward trend in applications we’ve had this year. Typically we would get about 7,000 applications for an admissions cycle. This year, we’ve reached almost 10,000 applications. We’re at about 9,700,” Charlene Green, the director of admissions at UC Davis School of Medicine told The Sacramento Bee. 

Dr Mark Henderson, the associate dean for admissions at UC Davis School of Medicine, also linked the rise in applications to Dr Fauci. “Dr Fauci, of course, is an icon for medicine and for physicians because he’s been a voice of reason and a voice of science at a time when there’s been a lot of noise that has to do with science and health and medicine and public health. Physicians aspire to use science to advance the health of their patients, and I think he’s definitely had an effect because of his visibility and because he stands out from all the other noise that’s in the media,” he noted.

Dr Henderson further explained: “In talking with the applicants, as we’s been a bit inspiring. A lot of them are inspired by the role that medicine has played in the pandemic. The medicine, the health care workers, the courage, their grit, the fact that they’ve been on the front lines of this, it’s been in the news every day. It’s really in people’s minds, so I think the idea of being a physician or being in health care actually has been, in a sense, elevated.”

While Stanford University School of Medicine has seen a 50% spike in the number of applicants, Boston University School of Medicine reported a 27% increase (Getty Images)

Dr Geoffrey Young, the AAMC’s senior director for student affairs and programs, called the trend ‘unprecedented.’ Americans flocking to medical professions during the pandemic mirrors a past crisis, he added. “After (September 11), there was a huge increase in the number of men and women that were entering into the military. So far in my lifetime, at least, and for as long as I’ve been in medical education, that’s the only comparison that I could make,” explained Dr Young.

Dr Fauci said it was “very flattering” but offered a more plausible explanation for the surge in applications. “Probably a more realistic assessment is that, rather than the Fauci effect, it’s the effect of a physician who is trying to and hopefully succeeding in having an important impact on an individual’s health, as well as on global health. So if it works to get more young individuals into medical school, go ahead and use my name. Be my guest,” he emphasized. 

The infectious disease expert considered it as a sign that “people are thinking about social justice — that you have responsibility not only to yourself, but as an integral part of society.” Dr Fauci hoped that it “will counterbalance and maybe would even overcome the other side of the coin, which is the really somewhat stunning and disturbing fact that people have no regard at all for society, only just focusing very selfishly on themselves.”

There could be other reasons too, according to experts. “During hard times, there is a tendency to drift toward a profession that gives you a stable career and it gives you a springboard for a lot of differentsub careerss,” Dr Joseph Silva, dean of the medical school at California Northstate, noted.

According to Henderson, when it is tough to get a job, and there is a financial downturn, “we tend to see a bit of an increase in application volume to professional schools like law schools and medical schools.”

The trend, however, may have long-term implications as the US faces a projected shortage of doctors. According to the AAMC, the US could see an estimated shortage of between 54,100 and 139,000 physicians, including shortfalls in both primary and specialty care, by 2033. “This annual analysis continues to show that our country will face a significant shortage of physicians in the coming years. The gap between the country’s increasing healthcare 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,” noted AAMC president and CEO, Dr David J Skorton, in the June 2020 report.

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