‘Fauci effect’: Med school applications surge, including at Virginia Tech

Medical school applications are up, according to data from a service that processes them, including at a Virginia medical school, which reports a 48% increase in applications compared to last year.

Dr. Melanie Prusakowski is the associate dean of admissions at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. She said there is an unprecedented increase in the number of applications this year at the school.

And it’s not just at Virginia Tech. The American Medical College Application Service reported in October that there were more than 7,500 additional applications nationwide, an increase of nearly 17%. And nearly two dozen medical schools reported a jump of at least 25%, the Association of American Medical Colleges said in a news release.

“What we’re seeing is well, well beyond that, and I think it’s pretty exciting,” Prusakowski said.

In the last 10 years, AAMC said a typical year-over-year increase in medical school applications was 3%.

Prusakowski has a number of theories about why the school has seen such a surge this year in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

She said that she is not surprised to see that people want to help out during this time.

But she also believes that the pandemic separated careers into “essential vs. nonessential,” and medicine is being viewed as a “more stable profession.”

“We’re always going to need practitioners who care for people’s health,” Prusakowski said.

The pandemic also reinforced the importance of collaboration and inquiry in medicine.

“We were dealing with an unknown. We had to identify it. We had to think about how to diagnose it, and how to prevent it, and how to treat it. And so it was the most stark example of how medicine needed research and needed inquiry at every step of the process that we’ve had in quite some time,” Prusakowski said.

School experts are not sure what’s behind the increase, and the reason could be as simple as students having more time to focus on applications as classes are conducted online. But certainly, there are applicants who decided to apply after seeing the effects of COVID-19 on patients and the work of front line workers, AAMC said.

Medical school admission officers are calling what’s happening the “Fauci effect,” GBH News reported.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, told GBH News that it is “very flattering” to have the phenomenon named after him.

“I think probably a more realistic assessment is that, rather than the Fauci Effect, it’s the effect of a physician who is trying to and hopefully succeeding in having an important impact on an individual’s health, as well as on global health. So if it works to get more young individuals into medical school, go ahead and use my name. Be my guest,” Fauci said.

For those who have thought about going to medical school but have not yet applied, or are still in middle school, high school or college, Prusakowski said applying to medical school is a great decision.

“And then I would also say that, think about how things like the pandemic, what you’ve seen in your neighbors and classmates and family and friends, everything from people who have been sick, who have been affected, to those who are affected even though they weren’t sick, and how the community rallied about around them because those are the stories that drive our passion,” she said.

And while not all of medicine is glamorous, it’s all important.

“The most important thing you can do is, study hard, learn a lot. And really be aware of who around you needs help, needs a friend, needs someone to stick up for him, because that’s really the beginning of being of service to others,” Prusakowski said.

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

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