UK’s College of Medicine saw a dramatic increase in applications in 2020. In the past year, the number of applicants has increased from 2,777 to 3,792 — one of the highest recorded applicant numbers the college has ever seen.
Dr. Wendy Jackson has been the College of Medicine’s associate dean of admissions for four years. She said this 37 percent increase is much higher than the 18 percent average increase that medical schools across the country have seen.
Jackson also said UK has pipeline programs in place for high school students who are on pre-med tracks.
“[We’re] hopefully helping support those who are traveling along that pipeline and getting them nice and polished when it’s time to apply for medical school,” Jackson said.
This increase comes in spite of the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic brought to the application process. Though applicants usually meet other students and faculty through in-person interviews and receptions from August to February, the pandemic forced these events to become virtual. Jackson said these virtual interviews became the standard for all medical schools in the country.
“We needed to have an alternative plan, so that decision was made by the beginning of summer that we were going to switch to virtual interviewing,” Jackson said.
Despite these challenges, Jackson said the College of Medicine prioritized maintaining equity for all its applicants.
“We wanted to make sure that all of our applicants that maybe didn't have access to good connectivity could have that access,” Jackson said. “At our regional campuses, we have the luxury of being able to say if we have an applicant that’s, say, in western Kentucky and didn’t have access to good internet, they could come to our Bowling Green campus, and we would then create a space for them to be able to have good connectivity.”
Dr. Robin Cooper, a professor in UK’s biology department, said that society has pushed people to pursue medical school while stigmatizing other careers.
“A lot of it goes with parental pushing [and] societal pushing,” Cooper said. “That's why you go to college, to get a better job, and then you apply to go to the next profession to get a better job and better pay, so I think it's just accentuated in going into the medical field.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has given many people a similar firsthand experience with medicine, leading many to cite it as a possible cause of the increase in medical school applications.
“You probably have people who have been affected by COVID and who have seen their family members go through it, and they weren’t able to help,” said Rachel Boice, a senior biology major on the pre-med track. “Nobody really knew what to do, so that's probably why they were motivated to come in to make sure something like this doesn't happen again.”
Cole Dowdy is a UK graduate entering his second year of medical school at the University of Louisville. Though Dowdy does not want to study infectious diseases, he still found the pandemic “extra motivating,” realizing the important duties of medical professionals.
“I don’t know if COVID really had that big of an impact [on applications],” he said. “You’d probably have to wait four years to see that. If there was a huge bump in applications, maybe you can point the finger to COVID.”
Others said the alterations to the application process brought on by the pandemic made it easier for students to apply and be accepted. The MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) was modified in 2020, with fewer questions and more dates and times available to take the test.
“People had more time to study, and they prepped for MCATS really well and got good scores,” Kikani said. “The MCAT last year being modified a little bit and having the format changed … it’s helped some people.”
Another reason behind the increase in medical school applications may be due to more people going to college and entering pre-med programs.
“We are really bringing more and more people into the program to begin with who are really pre-med minded,” Kikani said. “A lot of pre-med minded people are coming into here thinking [it’s] the best of paths to earning a good living and fulfilling individual desires.”
Dowdy also mentioned the increased prominence of UK HealthCare that the pandemic has brought.
“[UK HealthCare] is a very big part of the UK campus … so I think people are naturally drawn to it, and they’re pumping money into it,” he said. “STEM fields in general are getting a lot of attention and a lot of money.”
Although Jackson said she cannot predict future application trends, she said the college continues to see “very strong candidates.”
“I think the most difficult thing is that there is something to love about each of them, and so it's hard to decide when you are restricted to 201 seats …That’s why we have an admissions committee,” Jackson said. “The curriculum at UKCOM is spectacular, and I hope to see some of the same numbers coming through this cycle.”