In 2018, US medical schools made "notable gains" in diversifying their entering classes, with increases in the number of women and those from some racial and ethnic groups applying to and enrolling in medical school this fall, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reports.

"This year's significant gains in the number of women and black men entering medicine is excellent news," AAMC President and Chief Executive Officer Darrell G. Kirch, MD, says in a news release.

"Medical schools have been working hard to increase the diversity of tomorrow's doctors. While there is still much more work to do, we are very encouraged by this year's progress," adds Kirch.

For the first time since 2004, more women than men applied to US medical schools, comprising 50.9% of applicants. Women also made up the majority of matriculants to medical school for the second year in a row (51.6% vs 50.7% in 2017), the AAMC reports.

The latest data also show that medical schools in the United States continue to attract and enroll more racially and ethnically diverse classes. The number of black or African American applicants rose this year by 4.0%, to 5164, while matriculants increased by 4.6%, to 1856 students.

The gains for black or African American men are "especially noteworthy" after years of minimal growth or declines: the number of applicants from this group grew 4.4%, to 1851, and the number of matriculants rose 7.3%, to 734, the AAMC says.

American Indian or Alaska Native applicants increased by 10.0%, to 559, and matriculants increased by 6.3%, to 218, this year. Yet, despite this gain, American Indians and Alaska Natives have experienced slow and uneven gains in representation in medical education over the past 30 years, the AAMC notes.

Chipping Away at Predicted Physician Shortages

Looking at the overall picture, the AAMC says the total number of applicants to medical schools in 2018 rose by 2.1%, to 52,777, after a 2.6% decline in 2017. The number of matriculants grew by 1.3%, to 21,622. Women applicants increased by 5.0% and women matriculants increased by 3.2% this year. Men applicants and matriculants both declined by less than 1%.

As in past years, medical school enrollees in 2018 had strong academic credentials, the AAMC reports, with an average undergraduate grade point average (GPA) of 3.72 and an average Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) score of 511.

"This year's entering class also demonstrates a strong commitment to service, cumulatively performing more than 12.5 million community service hours," the association reports.

The growth in medical school applicants and matriculants couldn't come at a better time, the AAMC notes, given the significant projected shortage of up to 121,300 physicians by 2030.

To address this gap, medical schools have expanded class sizes, and 26 new schools have opened in the past decade, the AAMC notes. Since 2002, the number of medical school applicants has jumped by 57% (19,154 applicants), and the number of matriculants has grown by more than 31% (5134 matriculants).

Currently, more than 2000 new students are enrolled at one of the 26 medical schools that have opened, representing nearly 10% of all matriculants. "Medical schools have expanded their enrollment to educate the additional physicians our nation needs to care for a growing and aging population, as well as address health crises, such as the opioid epidemic," Kirch says in the release. 

"But we will not sufficiently increase the overall supply of physicians in the United States without creating more residency slots. It is more important than ever for Congress to lift the 1997 cap on federal support for residency positions to ensure that all patients have access to the care they need," says Kirch.