How Doctor Shortages Impact Med School Admissions

US News & World Report
By Ilana Kowarski
July 23, 2018

Genuine interest in a medical field where doctors are scarce can enhance an applicant’s candidacy.

In certain parts of the U.S., a doctor is hard to find. These places are typically located in low-income communities in remote, rural locations or in inner-city neighborhoods.

Similarly, there are some medical specialties, such as psychiatry and geriatrics, where, despite growing demand for medical care, there are a shrinking number of doctors.

Premeds with a demonstrated interest in providing medical care to underserved populations can sometimes boost their medical school admissions chances by noting this interest, according to Dr. McGreggor Crowley, an admissions counselor with the IvyWise admissions consulting firm.

Crowley says medical school applicants with a track record of meaningful work in a field where there is a critical need should highlight that accomplishment. This experience is something that should be “celebrated and displayed in the application process,” he says.

However, Crowley cautions that premeds who are unsure of their career plans should not feign interest in a specialty with a doctor shortage in an attempt to sway admissions officers, because that dishonest tactic usually backfires.

“It’s so much nicer to have students be open and honest about what their passions are and what drives them than to have people play games in the admissions process, particularly around these areas of critical need,” Crowley explains.

How to Demonstrate Interest in a High-Demand Medical Specialty
When medical school candidates proclaim interest in an in-demand medical specialty, admissions officers look for evidence that the applicant’s stated interest in that specialty is genuine, Crowley says. An applicant who claims a strong interest in geriatrics is more likely to be believed if they have a geriatrics-related background, such as a psychology major who has conducted significant research on dementia and aging, he says.

“It would make it easier in so many ways to see that student following through on their stated interest in geriatrics,” Crowley says. “But if you have a student who is just trying to play the game, it’s going to be very transparent.”

Dr. Richard W. Hong, an associate clinical professor of anesthesiology and chief of obstetric anesthesiology with the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California—Los Angeles, says premeds who fake interest in a medical specialty in order to improve their admissions odds are making a mistake.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about medical school applications, including the idea of applicants telling us what they think we want to hear,” Hong wrote in an email. “In most admissions circumstances, what you say you want to do with your degree doesn’t matter unless you back it up. You can claim an interest in primary care, but if your extracurricular activities don’t include relevant activities, it doesn’t ring true and suggests a level of immaturity or insincerity that we find worrisome in a medical school applicant.”

Consider the Financial Incentives for Entering High-Demand Medical Specialties
Dr. Heidi Chumley, executive dean of the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine, which has a campus in St. Maarten, says premeds with an interest in an in-demand medical specialty should investigate scholarship opportunities. Chumley notes that there are generous publicly funded medical school scholarships and stipends for premeds who commit to practicing medicine in a specialty or region where there is substantial need.

However, Chumley warns that these types of scholarships are only appropriate for students who know for sure what specialty they want to enter. “It’s a commitment, and… most students don’t really know exactly what they want to do until they’ve been in medical school and been experiencing what the different specialties have to offer,” she says. “But those who are ready to make a commitment – generally to primary care and generally to an underserved area – can cut back on how expensive medical school is by looking into these programs before they start.”

Hefty scholarships for aspiring physicians in high-need practice areas are offered at both the state and federal level. For instance, the Health Resources and Services Administration of the federal government offers the National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program, which can subsidize up to four years of medical school.

How Students Are Recruited From Medically Underserved Communities
Chumley notes that med schools are eager to enroll students who grew up in disadvantaged communities and who hope to return to those communities as physicians.

“I would strongly encourage that group of people to consider applying, because certainly those are the areas that we really need physicians [in],” she says.

Dr. Kenneth Steier, executive dean of the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in Harlem, New York City, and campus dean of the medical school’s Middletown campus in upstate New York, says it’s often hard to convince doctors who grew up outside of medically needy regions to work in those areas. “You really have to train people from these communities to produce doctors who are going work in these communities,” he says.