US Medical School Enrollment on Track to Rise 30% by 2015

Laurie Barclay, MD

May 07, 2012

May 7, 2012 — US medical schools are on track to meet a 30% increase in enrollment by 2015, including rapid growth in osteopathic schools, according to the results of the 2011 Medical School Enrollment Survey by the Center for Workforce Studies of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

"In 2006, in response to concerns of a likely future physician shortage, the AAMC recommended a 30 percent increase in U.S. medical school enrollment by 2015," the report states.

"The AAMC recommended this goal be met by increasing enrollment at existing medical schools and, where appropriate, by the creation of new medical schools. The AAMC also recommended ongoing monitoring of the supply of and demand for physicians, to continue to provide guidance to the medical education community and other interested parties," the report continues.

An important part of this monitoring process is the AAMC annual survey of medical school enrollment plans. The current report, of the eighth such annual survey, includes enrollment projections only for the 137 schools that have received full, provisional, or preliminary accreditation and the 7 schools with Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) applicant- or candidate-school status.

In 2016 to 2017, projected first-year medical school enrollment is 21,376, which is a 29.6% increase above first-year enrollment in 2002 to 2003. It also approximates the 30% increase by 2015 that the AAMC mandated in 2006.

More than half (58.3%) of the projected 2002 to 2016 growth will be at the 125 medical schools that were accredited as of 2002; 24.4% of the growth will be at new schools since 2002, and the remaining growth (17.3%) will be at schools that are presently in LCME applicant- or candidate-school standing. As of 2011, more than half (56.1%) of the projected 2002 to 2016 enrollment growth is already realized, with 2850 of the projected 4888 new slots already available.

Forty-three percent of schools surveyed in 2011 had either targeted increases or planned to target increases in enrollment to specific population groups, including underserved communities.

Nearly three quarters (74%) of schools expressed concern regarding the supply of qualified primary care preceptors, and more than half (53%) expressed concern regarding the supply of qualified specialty preceptors. More than half (52%) of schools surveyed in 2011 also expressed concern that they would be unable to maintain or increase enrollment because of economic conditions. This percentage was not significantly changed from the 2010 survey.

The rapid increase in DO enrollment continues. In 2016 to 2017, anticipated new first-year enrollment is expected to reach 6179, which is more than twice that reported in 2002 to 2003. At current schools, anticipated combined first-year MD and DO enrollment is 26,709 by 2016 to 2017, which represents a 37% increase over 2002 to 2003.

"Overall, the closeness of our aggregate projections to actual enrollment is encouraging and indicates that estimates made today will be a good barometer of future enrollment trends," the report states.

"Ongoing tracking of national medical school enrollment growth in future years will be critical. And any impact of contextual factors such as the role of health care reform, growth in other health professions such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants, and the economic environment will need to be monitored as well," the report continues. "This is especially true for public schools reliant on state funds that are in limited supply, given that 60.2 percent of the projected enrollment growth by 2016 for the currently accredited medical schools is from public schools. Medical school enrollment trends are an early indicator of future physician workforce dynamics and thus play a vital role in informing policy decisions," the report concludes.

Results of the 2011 Medical School Enrollment Survey . Center for Workforce Studies, AAMC.


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