The “Fauci Effect” is the phenomenon that has helped propel the number of applicants to medical school this year jump by as much as 20%. Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating on humanity, with lives lost, economic distress and social isolation just some of the many factors we are all dealing with. Perhaps though, there is a silver lining in the “Fauci Effect” in that we are propelling a new generation of young minds into medicine.
I, along with other MedSchoolCoach advisors as well as deans at various medical schools, have been interviewed by various news outlets over the past few weeks to discuss the increase in medical school applicants. We’ve shared our theories as to why it has happened, and what it may mean for the future of medicine. I wanted to take some time through and discuss on a more granular level what the “Fauci Effect” means for pre-meds who are applying to medical school in 2021.
As applicants to medical school climb, medical school spots do not keep pace. There are various reasons for this, but it comes down to: Just because you graduate a doctor doesn’t mean that doctor can practice medicine. Let me explain.
All physicians have to go through graduate level medical training (or graduate medical education, GME). These residency and fellowship programs actually train doctors in the speciality of their choice. Without them, a MD is just a person with two letters behind their name, not someone who is actually trained to provide medical or surgical care to patients. GME programs, in turn, are government funded. Not enough government funding at accredited programs means that the schools upstream can’t enroll more students. It’s a simplistic view of it, but suffice to say that just because more students are interested in medicine doesn’t mean that more students will actually be able to enter medicine as a career.
With the stiff competition, that means schools can be even more selective. In a process where 60% of applicants are usually rejected today, with more medical school applicants, that number may go up to 65% or 70%+ in the next year.
For 2021/2022 applicants in particular, that also means that students who tried to enroll in the 2020/2021 cycle and were left out will likely be reapplying. So you could have a “Cascading Fauci Effect” for a number of years as more people are interested in medicine yet more people get left out of a coveted spot at medical school each year.
A staple in the evaluation of a medical school applicant for years has been their extracurricular activities. Obviously, 2020 has thrown a wrench into many student’s plans for shadowing, volunteering, clinical observerships, research and more. While students are certainly not engaging in the same extracurriculars as they previously could, it’s still important to have a narrative around your application.
With a potential COVID-19 vaccine in the wings, let’s remember that it may be only 18 months or so that things were completely abnormal. A great medical school applicant takes more than 18 months to develop, so hopefully they had some solid experiences before, and will have some solid experiences after, the pandemic. Virtual clinical education programs can take the place of in-person experiences for the next few months and are important to do – again, to show interest for the medical profession.
Standardized tests, specifically the MCAT, have always been an important part of the medical school application process. Schools typically used it to sort through candidates, weed out those who were not strong enough and have a smaller pool of applicants to evaluate in detail. Because of the “Cascading Fauci Effect,” this may become even more true. Schools will have to sort through a larger pool of applicants and need some basis to make these decisions. MCAT is the great equalizer and will be used more and more to do so.
For students who are 2021/2022 applicants, it may be the hardest year ever to gain an acceptance to medical school. They must plan early and start preparing ahead of time to make sure their application is as good as it can be.
In great news, premed students and medical students are entering medicine at an amazing time.
We just developed a vaccine in less than 12 months. Think about that! That is incredible and shows just how far medicine has come, and how far it will go, in a single generation.
Personalized genomics, big data, artificial intelligence and more all have the opportunity to transform the health care we deliver. If we could coordinate efforts like we did on COVID, what if we did that on HIV/AIDs, malaria and other killers? What if we could get the world’s best and brightest to cure cancer, or remodel the heart that is diseased?
Medicine is on the cusp of more innovation in a few years than perhaps the previous hundred plus. Current med students are going to be a part of it, and should keep that top-of-your mind as they enter a daunting process which I sincerely hope they succeed in!
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