OPINION: More freshmen in medical school

Medical programs around the country need more manpower, preparation, resources



The students of today will be the doctors of tomorrow; but do we need more of them?


Since the 1918 influenza pandemic, health workers have been preparing for the next one to hit. It’s still a hotly debated question as to whether having more people join the medical field would make a difference in a future pandemic.

In 2019, over 50,000 students applied to medical school. Out of those, only about 20,000 of those students got accepted into programs. Factors like residency spots and class limits played a role in those numbers.

Gregory Carter, WSU clinical professor and chief medical officer for St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute, said it would be a good thing to have more freshmen enter the medical field, but that needs to be combined with better pandemic preparedness overall.

“I think there still is a relative shortage of physicians, along with a maldistribution, with primary care in rural areas particularly feeling the shortages,” Carter wrote in an email. “However, I am not sure that it would have a major impact on future pandemics.”

The pandemic has highlighted many inequity issues when it comes to the medical field. One of the issues is that rural and underserved communities were hit hard during this time.

Dr. Radha Nandagopal is a pediatrician and a WSU College of Medicine clinical associate professor. She said there are issues with the distribution of healthcare across Washington, especially in rural communities and communities of color.

“The pandemic has reminded us that medical professionals are very important to our country’s health and well-being,” Nandagopal said. “We were already concerned about our aging healthcare workforce, especially in rural and underserved areas. I think the push is even more so that everyone across the state of Washington has access to healthcare.” 

Many videos and articles about health professionals during this time continue to surface. Health professionals continue to share how much they work and protocols they need to follow to keep their families and patients safe. Would having more freshmen entering the medical field prevent some of the issues we are facing now?

“I think the issue is more complicated than more freshmen entering medicine,” Nandagopal said. “I think there are a lot of factors that contribute to pandemics and the decision for certain people to go into medicine.”

The issue is not only the number of people entering medicine but the preparation we take for the future.

“Many people in the health profession and academia have been preparing for a pandemic for years and years,” Nandagopal said. “I think that answer is pretty complicated, and it is important to think about the fact that we want more people to go into medicine, but I would love them to come in for the right reasons.”