For a health care system to succeed, it must first be able to cultivate a student body that is engaged with the learning process that is necessary. With the expansion of health care coverage in the United States, doctor shortages in the next 5-15 years are a great fear. It already takes 6 months to schedule a standard appointment in some rural areas – if there are fewer doctors graduating from medical school, how long could those wait times end up being?
Each year, about 40,000 candidates apply from all demographics to join this total. Only 17,000 students are actually accepted into medical schools.
Demographic data about medical school applications and graduates has been collected since 1974 and very little has changed in that data in 4 decades. For the last 30 years, the colleges which are graduating the most minority doctors have been the schools that primarily serve minorities historically.
Women Dominate Medical School Demographics
- Among Asians, blacks or African-Americans, and Hispanics or Latinos, women make up a greater percentage of younger physicians [52%] than their male counterparts.
- African-Americans/Blacks only comprise 4% of the total physician workforce that exists in the United States today.
- Among medical school applicants where women comprise roughly 67% of Black/African-American applicants.
- Men comprise a greater percentage of physicians than women across Asian [56.4%], American Indian or Alaska Native [58.1%], Hispanic or Latino [59.0%], and white [65.2%] racial and ethnic groups.
- Out of the total U.S. MD active physicians, 4.1% were Black/African American, 4.4% were Hispanic or Latino, 0.4% were American Indian or Alaska Native, 11.7% were Asian, and 48.9% were White/Caucasian.
- The only Asian subgroup in which there were more women than men were Filipino physicians [51.3%].
- Men accounted for a greater percentage of physicians than women among all Hispanic or Latino subgroups in 2013, with the largest percentage gap being in the Mexican-American subgroup at 61.5%.
The number of women becoming doctors has been slowly growing over the past 3 decades. For younger doctors just coming out of medical school, there are certain demographics that see women outnumbering men by a 2:1 ratio. This encouraging trend should not overshadow the struggle that minorities have in being able to successfully graduate with a medical degree. Unless they attend a school that has historically graduated people from their demographic, there is a good chance that a minority medical student won’t graduate… or even be accepted to the medical school of their preference.
How The Medical Workforce Is Changing In The US
- The largest percentage of physicians is in the 35-44 age demographic.
- 30% of White/Caucasian physicians are in the 45-54 age demographic.
- 39% of Asian practicing physicians are under the age of 34, which is the highest percentage of any specific minority demographic.
- Among younger age groups (age 49 and younger) and the oldest age group (age 75 and older), a greater percentage of the physician workforce comprised black or African-American women compared to men.
- In 2012, there were 5x as many American Indian or Alaska Native U.S. physician graduates than in 1980.
- The number of Hispanic or Latino U.S. physician graduates has nearly tripled in the last 30 years.
- White/Caucasian men still dominate medical school graduate rates, with 6,700+ graduates reported in 2012. White/Caucasian women came in second with 5,500+ graduates.
- Since 2002, the number of Asian men graduating from medical school has decreased to the point where more Asian women graduated in 2012 than men [2,434 vs 2,427].
In just about every demographic, women dominate in the younger age groups and in the oldest age group. It’s an interesting phenomenon that may have many reasons. Some women may choose to temporarily retire to take care of their children. Others may choose to go back to school at a later age to finish a medical degree that they had started earlier. The data is very clear: women may not make up a majority of the practicing medical professionals between the ages of 35-74, but outside of that age demographic, they are outnumbering men consistently.
The Educational Issues of Medical School for Minorities
- Between 1980-2012, only 17 US schools graduated more than 350 African-American/Black medical students.
- Out of those 17 schools, just 2 schools [Howard University College of Medicine and Meharry Medical College] graduated more than 1,000 African-American/Black students.
- Only the University of Oklahoma has graduated more than 150 students of American Indian or Alaska Native descent in the last 30 years. 4 additional schools have graduated more than 75 students of a similar demographic background.
- Only 3 schools in the US have graduated more than 1,000 Hispanic or Latino doctors out of medical school and none of them were on the US mainland.
- 4 US schools have graduated more than 1,500 Asian medical students. 8 schools have graduated 1,250 or more students from this demographic in the last 30 years.
- In comparison, there are 7 US medical schools that have graduated more than 5,000 White/Caucasian students in the last 30 years. The Top 15 schools for White/Caucasian graduates have all seen 4,000+ students become doctors.
- The cost of a medical education is so high that 78% students accrue about $100,000 in debt by the time they finish. 13% of students will have more than $250,000 of debt before they start working as a physician.
- Tuition for out-of-state students can be as much as 50% higher than for in-state students.
- The US Army, Navy, and Air Force all offer full medical school scholarships with the provision that the student will provide a few years of service in return.
Because the US has a predominantly White/Caucasian population, it isn’t surprising to see a higher overall number of graduates in this demographic. What is surprising to see is how few minority students are graduating. The only demographic that is hitting above its weight as a population percentage is the Asian demographic. Even then, however, the number of graduates is still predominantly at a handful of colleges. This means minorities have fewer choices, fewer opportunities, but the same costs to attend medical students as their White/Caucasian counterparts and that may be contributing to the doctor shortages that are forecast for the US in the next few years.
Regional Factors Which Influence Medical School Demographics
- The state of New York has the most medical schools at 13.
- Missouri-Kansas City has the fewest number of applications for medical school at 111 per year than any other school in the country. That’s 3x fewer applicants than the next lowest school, which is NC-East Carolina-Brody.
- George Washington averages more than 14,000 applications each year, which leads Drexel by more than 1,000.
- With a 61% female enrollment, Meharry is a leader in both minority enrollment and women graduating from medical school.
The schools that are focusing on minority graduates and women in this field are doing an excellent job. Other schools are approaching a 50/50 enrollment rate of men and women, but others are simply focusing on catering to the traditional medical demographics. West Virginia, Utah, and Nevada all graduate 7 men for every 3 women. Yet even when there is a lack of overall diversity, there is still hope can be found.
How Diversity Can Be Seen Today
- 27% of physicians surveyed between 2009 and 2011 were born outside of the United States.
- The percentage of current physicians that speak a language other than English when they are at home: 29%.
- About 1 in 5 current physicians/medical school students have either served in the military or are currently serving.
- Georgia has the highest percentage of Black/African American practicing physicians as they make up 12.7% of the total population. Maryland comes in second with 9.4% and Mississippi third at 7.7%.
- 35% of the doctors working in Hawaii are Asian. California comes in second at 19.3% and Nevada is third with 13.1% of the population.
- At 11.2%, New Mexico is the state with the highest percentage of Hispanic or Latino practicing physicians. Florida is second at 8.8% and Texas is third at 8.3%.
- At 4.3%, Oklahoma has the largest population base that comes from native population demographics. At 2.7%, North Dakota comes in second. Alaska is third at 2%.
- On the other end of the spectrum, 3 out of 4 doctors in Idaho are White/Caucasian. Utah and Wyoming are both above 72%.
Diversity in medical school programs may not exist except in historically minority colleges, but what is happening is that students who graduate are staying in the state where they went to school. This has led to pockets of diversification throughout the country that are slowly beginning to spread as more and more minority graduates begin to work their way into the workforce. 30 years ago, you could just about guarantee yourself that a doctor would be White/Caucasian and male. That’s still the majority demographic graduating from medical schools, but women and minorities are making an impact. What will the next 30 years hold for this field?