The Fauci effect? Medical schools see surge in applications.

The Fauci effect? Medical schools see surge in applications.

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When Ryan Farmer dressed up as Dr. Anthony Fauci last Halloween, he was trying on more than a costume. He was embracing a calling.

He’s not sure what kind of doctor he wants to become. But inspired by the selflessness and community service of medical workers over the past year, Mr. Farmer is now preparing his application for medical school.

Why We Wrote This

What makes people devote their entire lives to serving others? Witnessing the selflessness of medical personnel during the pandemic has helped to inspire thousands of prospective medical students.

“All of those people who’ve been sacrificing so many things in their lives to help all of us,” he says. “Those are the people I want to be.”

Across the country, medical school applications are soaring, up 18% this past year, an enormous jump for the field.

Perhaps not since 9/11 – when droves of young people followed the career footsteps of first responders, soldiers, and firefighters – have current events shaped the area of work people pursue, says Mary McSweeney, assistant dean for admissions at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Medicine and Public Health.

“People who go into medicine want to help people,” says Dr. McSweeney, “and this is the ultimate time to help people.”

Wearing khakis, glasses, a tie, a lab coat, and some dry shampoo for a touch of gray hair, Ryan Farmer added the pièce de résistance to his Halloween costume last year – a simple name tag reading “Dr. Fauci.” 

With that, Mr. Farmer had become the nation’s top expert on infectious disease. In a year defined by the coronavirus pandemic, there hardly could’ve been a more appropriate outfit. To Mr. Farmer, it was more than a costume. It was a calling.

A senior at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, Mr. Farmer is now preparing his application for medical school. He may not be tomorrow’s Anthony Fauci. He’s not even sure what kind of doctor he wants to become. But inspired by the selflessness and community service of medical workers over the past year, Mr. Farmer hopes to eventually wear his lab coat at work each day and not just on Halloween.

Why We Wrote This

What makes people devote their entire lives to serving others? Witnessing the selflessness of medical personnel during the pandemic has helped to inspire thousands of prospective medical students.

“I think the kind of people who have stepped up all around the country are the kind of people we need more of,” he says. “I want to be a part of that community.”

Across the country, many young people planning their careers share the same sentiment, and are taking steps to make it a reality. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), medical school applications for this year rose 18%, an enormous jump for the field. While these applicants won’t practice during the COVID-19 pandemic, their increase is tangible evidence of a rally-round-the-flag effect in public health and medicine, which could help stave off a looming shortage of medical workers in the next decade.

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