The Evolving Face of Medicine: 10 Facts About Today’s Medical Students

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While medicine is a dynamic field that is constantly being updated because of human innovation, medical education itself had been relatively stagnant for decades. However, medical education has recently undergone many consequential changes, with medical student demographics becoming more diverse and medical schools changing the way that medicine is taught. While there is still much progress to be made, it is important for us to appreciate that change is happening in real time.

 

1 | There Are Now More Female Than Male Medical Students

According to the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), in 2018-2019 the percentage of female matriculants in medical schools was 51.6% compared to 48.3% of male matriculants. Interestingly, the percentage of female matriculants had actually been decreasing annually before the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) first mandated diversity accreditation standards in 2009. This trend of decreasing female enrollment reversed between 2012-2017 after the LCME diversity accreditation standards went into effect. The scales finally tipped towards women in 2017 (i.e., 2017 was the first year that the percentage of women matriculants was greater than that of men).

 

2 | The Percentage of African American Medical Students Has Increased

According to the AAMC, 7.3% of matriculants to medical schools identified as Black or African American in 2017. This is up from 6.8% in 2002. Like women, the percentage of black matriculants had actually been decreasing annually before the LCME accreditation standards were implemented. This trend reversed between 2012-2017.

 

3 | The Percentage of Hispanic Medical Students Has Increased

According to the AAMC, 8.9% of matriculants to medical schools identified as Hispanic, Latino, or of Spanish origin in 2017. This is up from 5.4% in 2002.

 

4 | The Percentage of Asian Medical Students Has Increased

According to the AAMC, 24.6% of matriculants to medical schools identified as Asian in 2017. This is up from 20.8% in 2002.

 

5 | The Percentage of Caucasian Medical Students Has Decreased

According to the AAMC, 58.9% of matriculants to medical schools identified as Caucasian in 2017. This is down from 67.9% in 2002.

 

6 | More People Are Matriculating in Medical School

According to the AAMC, there were 21,622 matriculants to medical schools in 2018-2019. In comparison, there were 18,036 matriculants to medical schools in 2008-2009. That is a 20% increase over the past decade.

 

7 | Some Medical Students Are Graduating with Little or No Debt

Medical student debt is a serious problem, with the average medical student graduating with $200,000 in debt in 2017. Some medical schools are taking big steps to address medical student debt. For instance, in 2018 NYU became the first medical school to offer scholarships that cover medical school tuition for all its students regardless of need or merit, an effort due in large part to a $100 million donation from Kenneth Langone. Similarly, Columbia and UCLA began offering full-ride scholarships based on need and merit, respectively, using millions of dollars from wealthy donors (Dr. P. Roy Vagelos and David Geffen, respectively). Getting into NYU, Columbia, or UCLA will likely become even tougher in the coming years. Hopefully, other medical schools will implement tuition reduction or elimination programs that enable more medical students to graduate with little or no debt.

 

8 | Work-Life Balance Is Becoming More Important

The American Medical Association’s (AMA) Council on Long Range Planning and Development recently released a report entitled the “Medical Education: Health Care Trends 2016 – 2017 Edition.” It has a ton of interesting information, read through it if you have the time. It is interesting to note that the report predicts that the current generation of medical students, being millennials who prioritize work-life balance, will likely gravitate towards careers with more reasonable schedules.

 

9 | Teamwork Has Become a Central Focus of Most Medical School’s Curricula

Interprofessional education (IPE) is basically where medical students are taught to function in the collaborative team environment of modern medicine. An example would be a group exercise between medical, nursing and pharmacy students, where all disciplines work together to provide care for simulated patients. The number of medical schools that have implemented IPE in their curriculum doubled between 2007 to 2014, from 44% to 88%.

 

10 | Health Systems Science Is Increasingly Emphasized by Medical Schools

The AMA has another initiative called the Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium, which is providing millions of dollars in grants to medical schools. As part of this initiative, the AMA and faculty from eleven medical schools funded by the consortium collaboratively wrote a book called “Health Systems Science” that is now being taught at several medical schools. This book is trying to establish health systems science as the third pillar of medical education alongside basic and clinical sciences. Topics covered in the book range from population health, socioeconomic determinants of health, healthcare policy, and value-based care.

 

Final Remarks

Though progress has been modest and/or slow, there has been definite change happening in the American medical education system over the past years. Medical school classes are gradually becoming more sexually and racially diverse, some medical schools have taken big steps towards curbing student debt, and medical educators are teaching medical students how to work in teams and understand the complex landscape of the American healthcare system.

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