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Med School Applications Soar In Wake Of Pandemic


Medical schools report applications are way up this year, and there are a few thoughts about why - the pandemic, of course, the economy and what some are calling the Fauci effect. Kirk Carapezza from member station GBH in Boston has this report.

KIRK CARAPEZZA, BYLINE: Sitting inside her childhood bedroom in Natick, Mass., 23-year-old Mary Grace Kelley (ph) says she's always wanted to go into medicine.


MARY GRACE KELLEY: We've lived here my whole life, so we still have some of those little kindergarten, preschool things of, what do you want to be when you grow up? And mine always said doctor.

CARAPEZZA: When the pandemic hit, the Boston University graduate was working as a medical assistant at a private office that closed and then furloughed all its staff. So she applied to med school, inspired by health care workers battling COVID-19.


KELLEY: There's definitely a call to arms thinking that if there's another pandemic, it'll be up to us.

CARAPEZZA: Medical school applications are up 18% compared to last year, before the pandemic.


GEOFFREY YOUNG: It's unprecedented.

CARAPEZZA: That's Geoff Young. He oversees student affairs at the Association of American Medical Colleges, which typically sees a 1% or 2% increase each year. He compares the crisis-inspired trend to what happened after another national tragedy.


YOUNG: After 9/11, there was a huge increase in the number of men and women that were entering into the military to serve this country.

CARAPEZZA: Stanford has seen a 50% increase in med school applications, Boston University - 27%.


KRISTEN GOODELL: This year, we have received 12,024 applications.

CARAPEZZA: Kristen Goodell directs admissions at BU School of Medicine. Her three-person staff is now sifting through all those applications to fill just 110 spots. Goodell says the med school, with an urban teaching hospital, is seeing a flood of idealistic applicants focused on social and racial justice.

GOODELL: People are so aware that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted poor people and people of color, and what they want to do is make the world a better place.

CARAPEZZA: Behind closed doors, Goodell and other admissions officers have been calling this the Fauci effect. So what does the nation's top infectious disease expert think of the Fauci effect?


ANTHONY FAUCI: If it works to get more young individuals into medical school, go ahead and use my name. Be my guest (laughter).

CARAPEZZA: We asked Dr. Anthony Fauci.


FAUCI: 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 individuals' health, as well as on global health.

CARAPEZZA: And Fauci says he sees the flood of medical school applicants as a sign that people are thinking about their responsibility to others.


FAUCI: That counterbalances, I hope, the other side of the coin, which is the fact that people have no regard at all for society and only just focusing very selfishly on themselves.

CARAPEZZA: One applicant Fauci has inspired is Sam Smith (ph). He says Fauci and the pandemic have made him change the specialty he wants to go into to infectious diseases.

SAM SMITH: I've always been a little interested in it, but it kind of put everything in perspective - right? - when you see thousands and thousands of people getting sick.

CARAPEZZA: Back in her childhood bedroom, Mary Grace Kelley says Fauci has inspired her, too.

KELLEY: We are basically the next generation. We're going to be taking care of our parents, grandparents.

CARAPEZZA: Two aspiring doctors contributing to the historic increase in med school applications.

For NPR News, I'm Kirk Carapezza in Boston.

MARTIN: This story was a collaboration with The Hechinger Report.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE DINING ROOMS' "YOU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kirk is a reporter for the NPR member station in Boston, WGBH, where he covers higher education, taking the time to capture the distinct voices of students and faculty, administrators and thought leaders.