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Nation's Medical Schools Are Deluged by Applicants : Education: Poor economy and lack of jobs are partly responsible for the increase, experts say, as is enhanced recruiting of women, older people and minorities.

September 19, 1993|ZINIE CHEN | ASSOCIATED PRESS

RICHMOND, Va. — Skipper Hope works part time as a respiratory technician at the Medical College of Virginia Hospitals. His ultimate career goal is to be a physician.

Hope, a 23-year-old graduate of Hampden-Sydney College, is on the waiting list at MCV and two other schools, but says he probably won't get in this fall. Nonetheless, he's keeping in touch with admissions officials in case something opens up.

"It's a long, drawn-out process," Hope said. "It's discouraging, but everyone goes through it unless they get in when they want to get in and where they want to get in."

Hope, who also works part time at a hospital pharmacy in Rappahannock, said he plans to find a full-time job in the health care field and reapply to school for 1994-95.

"You see the light at the end of tunnel, and wonder if it's true light or your hope," he said. "I know how badly I want it. . . . It's a matter of persistence."

Hope is among thousands of applicants nationwide trying to figure out alternate plans after failing to get into medical school this year.

Competition to get into the nation's 126 medical schools has reached an all-time high. More than 42,500 people applied for 15,975 slots for the 1993-94 school year, according to the Assn. of American Medical Colleges.

The applicant pool is the largest ever, surpassing the record set in 1974, said Richard Randlett, the Washington-based association's vice president for student services.

Officials say there are several reasons behind the increase; many cite the poor economy.

"There are already too many MBAs and lawyers. There are some out there who say there will never be a glut of physicians. There are always areas that need doctors," Randlett said.

"In recessionary times, all grad school applications go up. If you can't get a job, go to graduate school," said Cynthia Heldberg, director of admissions at MCV's School of Medicine. "In industry and big business, there are so many layoffs. Then you start to look around to where that doesn't occur."

Also, recruitment efforts in recent years are bearing fruit. Medical schools began recruiting students after the number of applicants fell substantially between 1974-1988. As a result, more "non-traditional" candidates such as women, older applicants and members of minority groups began to consider medical careers.

Admissions committees "are now considering individuals for medical school we wouldn't have considered 15 years ago," said Dr. Werner Samson, assistant dean of admissions at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Last year's entering class at the Seattle medical school was 54% women, Samson said. This fall's class is 46% women.

"We also like to see more individuals who have already tried first careers," he said. "They're more mature and have more life experience."

The Clinton Administration's impending health care reforms haven't kept students from applying to medical school, officials said. "The people who are scared are the people in there already," Samson said.

MCV received 4,384 applications for 168 slots for this fall's incoming class, double the number it received four to five years ago, said Heldberg, the director of admissions.

Increased altruism of today's college students also plays a part in increased interest in medicine, said Beth Bailey, director of admissions at the University of Virginia's medical school.

"It's kind of a backlash against the '80s. People don't want a career where they just want to make money," Bailey said.

While taking job stability into consideration, most prospective students still want to attend medical school for primarily humanitarian reasons, Heldberg said.

"What we do is teach them lots of things. But it's going to cost $160,000 to go to med school, so they have to get a good job," she said. "They want a career that gives them a lot of satisfaction, psychologically, emotionally and financially."

Hope agreed. "My father has said, 'One day's going to come along and you're going to ask yourself what you have done.' Medicine has made the quality of my life possible.

"I find working in a hospital a very stimulating place and can wake up the next day and say, 'I've done this. I've given the quality of life back.' "

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