Medical College of Wisconsin sees so-called ‘Fauci effect’ application bump

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The Medical College of Wisconsin has seen increased interest from prospective students, in line with a national trend that some attribute to the “Fauci effect” (referring to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases).

Applications for the coming school year are up 18% over last year at MCW, said Dr. Joseph Kerschner, dean of the School of Medicine and executive vice president of the Medical College of Wisconsin, during a call with Modern Healthcare on Monday. That matches national averages. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the number of students applying to enter medical school in 2021 is up 18% from this time last year, a bump that AMA said is “unprecedented.”

In the decade leading up to the pandemic, applications to U.S. medical schools have increased incrementally, from roughly 43,900 in 2011 to 53,000 in 2020, according to the AAMC.

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It’s unclear what exactly is driving the larger uptick this year. Some argue aspiring med students simply have more time on their hands to apply for school, or they don’t want to immediately enter the workforce in the current climate.

Another theory is that prospective physicians have been inspired by the dedication shown by frontline health care workers during the pandemic.

Kerschner said the increased publicity around “health care heroes” has perhaps spurred some people who would have otherwise considered other careers to ultimately choose medicine.

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Joseph Kerschner
Joseph Kerschner

But, given the amount of time it takes to prepare to go to medical school, including completing prerequisite courses, taking the MCAT and submitting applications, it’s unlikely that schools would already be seeing a large increase in applications from people who weren’t already interested in medical school before the pandemic.

To matriculate in fall 2021, a student would have to complete their application in the spring or summer of 2020.

“The preparation to become a physician is a long road,” Kerschner said. “… Although the pandemic has now been with us for a year or so, to somehow think there’s this broad group of students who have prepared and gotten ready to go to medical school and applied in just a year’s period of time or less, is not really doing justice for the amount of effort and difficulty and forethought that goes into every single student who wants to go to medical school.”

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Kerschner said it will also take time before the health care field will see the pandemic’s potential impact on which specialties students choose once they enter med school.

“Those things take time to percolate through the system,” he said, adding that medical school takes four years, and for many people, another three to six years to complete residencies and fellowships. “…I’m sure there are individuals who are in medical school or residency now who are inspired by individuals that they’re working with who may be making career choices based on this pandemic.”

But COVID-related restrictions have also presented challenges to current med students. During the initial months of the pandemic, MCW had to suspend in-person clinical teaching opportunities, and in-person medical residency interviews have also been limited or suspended altogether, Kerschner said.

“There have been starts and stops in their education,” he said. “… Students have had to make different sort of accommodations for their career decisions.”

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