Women make up majority of U.S. medical school enrollment—but not in Indiana

  • Comments
  • Print

It’s a good time for women interested in medical school.

For the first time ever, women comprise more than half of applicants and enrollees in U.S. medical schools, according to figures released this month by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Women made up 50.9 percent of the applicants this year, up from 49.6 percent last year. And women made up 51.6 percent of all new enrollees to medical schools this year, up from 50.7 percent last year.

But, in Indiana, the numbers lag the national average.

At the Indiana University School of Medicine, women made up 45.7 percent of this year’s applicants, up from 44.6 percent last year, but still more than 5 percentage points below the national average. And women made up 46.9 percent of the IU medical school’s freshman class, up from 42.3 percent last year, but nearly 5 percentage points below the national average.
“The medical professional as a whole has certainly come a long way toward creating an inclusive environment that values a diversity of backgrounds, but there is more work to do,” said Paul Wallach, IU School of Medicine’s executive associate dean for educational affairs and institutional improvement, in an emailed statement to IBJ.

He continued: “Our goal is to ensure that IU School of Medicine graduates physicians who reflect the diversity of our state, so they can provide outstanding care in service of our communities.”

U.S. Census numbers show Indiana has about 100 women for every 97 men.

The IU medical school is the oldest and largest in Indiana and the only one represented by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Indiana’s other medical school, Marian University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, is represented by the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, which compiles its own figures for applications and enrollment.

At osteopathic schools across the nation, women represented less than half of new enrollees—45.3 percent. The figures are for 2017, the latest year available.

Marian University said women made up 49 percent of this year’s incoming medical school class. That’s up from 46 percent last year.

The school opened in 2013 and graduated its first class last year.

Until just a few decades ago, women made up a small fraction of the number of U.S. doctors and medical students. In 1949, for example, only 5.5 percent those of entering medical school students were women, with 6 percent of the physician workforce comprised of women.

But that began to change sharply starting in the 1970s, due to changing attitudes and new laws, including Title IX of the Higher Education Act Amendments of 1972 (a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded educational program) and Public Health Service Act of 1975 (which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally assisted health training programs).

In the decade between 1970 and 1980, more than 20,000 women graduated from U.S. medical schools, nearly twice as many as the previous four decades combined.

Medical schools say they take the job of attracting and recruiting female students seriously.

“Medical schools have been working hard to increase the diversity of tomorrow’s doctors,” said Dr. Darrell G. Kirch, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges. “While there is still much more work to do, we are very encouraged by this year’s progress.”

The association represents 152 U.S. medical schools. (It also represents 17 Canadian medical schools, which were not included in the report.) You can browse through extensive tables for all U.S. medical schools at this link.

IU School of Medicine says it has stepped up recruiting activities focused on women. The efforts include coordinating career day visitation at the medical school for student affinity groups and publications designed to promote careers in medicine to women.

But the school said “sustained efforts” are needed in the U.S. school system, from elementary through high school, to promote opportunities for female students in health science and medicine.

“We know it is vital for the physician workforce to reflect the population it serves,” the school said in a statement.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Editor's note: IBJ is now using a new comment system. Your Disqus account will no longer work on the IBJ site. Instead, you can leave a comment on stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Past comments are not currently showing up on stories, but they will be added in the coming weeks. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.