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  November 25, 2002

After Years Of Decline, Applications To
Medical School Now On The Rise
By Pat Keefe

Preliminary statistics from medical schools around the country indicate the decline in numbers of students applying for admission may be over. And early School of Medicine numbers indicate the same thing in Farmington.

The increasing number of applicants appears to reverse a six-year trend.

"Entering the 2003 pool, it looks like things are starting to turn around," says Keat Sanford, assistant dean of admissions and director of the Student Services Center at the Health Center. "Nationally, the number of students taking the medical school admissions test increased by about 6 percent, and applications to the School of Medicine are on the rise."

Bruce Koeppen, dean for academic affairs and education, says he thinks there are a variety of reasons that in the last few years the numbers of students thinking about and applying to medical school decreased: "Autonomy is one of the most important. Before managed care, physicians were perceived as autonomous. They were small business owners who made decisions on all kinds of things needed to care professionally for their patients. They do not have that same degree of autonomy today. It is perceived as, and is in fact, largely diminished."

Besides autonomy, national experts suggest a number of other factors to account for the decline. These include the boom years of the 1990s - a strong economy always causes a decline in applications ; the natural ebb and flow of interest in professional schools in general; and concern over the high level of educational debt typically required to complete medical training.

In 1996, national statistics show that 46,967 applied for medical school. That number declined to 32,182 in 2002 - a 31 percent drop. The School of Medicine's applications declined during that time as well, from a high of 3,336 in 1995 to a low of 1,776 in 2002, representing a 46 percent drop.

Yet even when the number of applicants was at its lowest ebb, medical schools were never in danger of running out of candidates. In 2002, the 1,776 who applied to the School of Medicine were competing for 80 positions, a ratio of 22 to 1.

Dr. Sanford says that, when viewed historically, the pattern of applications closely correlates to the economy: In good times, applications decline; in poor times, applications increase.

Sanford says there is a cycle that relates to how well the economy is doing: "In boom years, there are other challenging professions to examine. In lean years, medicine can provide a consistent quality of living.

"The prediction is that we are in the first years of new growth in applications," he says, "but how long it will last and how high it will go are unknowns."

Dr. Koeppen adds that even as the numbers declined, the academic quality of the students who applied to UConn remained consistent or even improved.

He notes that many students come into medicine for altruistic reasons: "Thankfully, for the good of the profession, we're still seeing those individuals who view it as a calling and have a commitment to the community and to taking care of patients."