Jump in Diversity Seen in Medical School Applications, Admissions

Ken Terry

December 10, 2021

US medical schools attracted and enrolled a more diverse class in the 2021–2022 academic year than they did last year, according to new data released by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Black, Hispanic, and women applicants and enrollees all made gains.


In addition, the total number of students applying to medical school this year substantially increased, rising 17.8% from the prior year. The number of applicants who were accepted rose 2.6%. The number of first-year students moved up 1.9%, and total enrollment in medical schools grew 1.5%.

The number of Black first-year students increased 21%, to 2562. Black students made up 11.3% of first-year students in 2021, up from 9.5% last year. The AAMC called out the surge in the number of Black men who are first-year enrollees, which increased 20.8%.

Among first-year students, the number who are Hispanic, Latinx, or of Spanish origin increased 7.1%, to 2869. Individuals from this group made up 12.7% of first-year students, compared to 12% in 2020.

However, the number of first-year students who are American Indians or Alaska Natives declined 8.5%, to 226, making up just 1% of the new students.

"The gains in medical school enrollment of students from underrepresented groups are encouraging, but there is still much more work to be done — including increasing the representation of American Indian and Alaska Native communities — to ensure that our nation's diversity is reflected in the future physician workforce," said Geoffrey Young, PhD, AAMC senior director, transforming healthcare workforce, in a news release. "The AAMC and our member medical schools are deeply committed to significantly increasing the number of applicants and students from underrepresented groups."

Women also continued to make gains this year, comprising 56% of applicants, 55.5% of first-year students, and 52.7% of total medical school students. This is the third consecutive year in which women made up the majority in these three categories. The number of male first-year students declined for the sixth year in a row.

More First-Time Applicants

The jump in first-time applicants of all backgrounds was especially striking. The number in this category jumped 21.2%, to 46,758, in 2021, after dropping 1.7% in 2020 and rising 2% in 2019. No comparable increase in first-time applicants has been seen in the past 10 years.

Male first-time applicants increased 13.6% — another record — although the number of male first-year students declined. Female first-time applicants surged 27.4%.

The AAMC also provided data on how many people with different racial and ethnic identifications applied to medical schools.

From 2020–2021, the number of Blacks who applied to medical schools jumped 41.1%. Applications increased 25.1% from those of Hispanic, Latinx, or Spanish origin; 19.7% from Asian-Americans; 22.8% from American Indians and Alaska Natives; 19.6% from Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders; and 13.9% from Whites.

From 2014–2021, the percentage of self-identified Black people among those who applied to medical schools rose from 8.1% to 11.7%. For people of Hispanic, Latinx, or Spanish origin, the percentage increased from 8.9% to 11.7%. For Asian-Americans, it grew from 21% to 25%. For American Indians and Alaska Natives, it nudged up from 0.9% to 1.1%. For Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders, it stayed level at 0.4%. And for Whites, it dropped from 54.2% to 49.7%.

This year, the number of male acceptees dropped 1% while the number of female acceptees rose 5.9%. Among those who actually enrolled in medical school, the number of men fell 2.1% while the number of women increased 5.6%.

Among first-year students, the percentage of Black people rose from 6.9% in 2014 to 11.3% in 2021. The respective percentages for 2014 and 2021 were 9.1% and 12.7% for those of Hispanic, Latinx, or Spanish origin; 0.3% and 0.4% for Native Hawaiian and the other Pacific Islanders; 21.2% and 26.5% for Asians; and 57.5% and 51.5% for Whites.

In the American Medical Association's strategic plan to reduce health inequities, which it announced last May, the AMA called for the elimination of all forms of discrimination, exclusion, and oppression in medical and physician education, training, hiring, and promotion. In addition, the report stated that the AMA is determined to "ensure equal representation of Black, Indigenous and Latino people in medical school admissions as well as medical school and hospital leadership ranks."

Ken Terry is a healthcare journalist and author. His latest book is "Physician-Led Healthcare Reform: A New Approach to Medicare for All."

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