Med School Copes With Decreasing Applications

Crisis Hits Schools Nationwide

Why is Daniel D. Federman '49 smiling?

While most medical schools nationwide are struggling to cope with drastically falling applicant pools, Federman--who is the dean for students and alumni at Harvard Medical School--says his institution is still in good shape.

"We are not at all worried about the quality of our applicants, and some schools are," Federman says.

"The numbers are down at Harvard, but the quality doesn't seem to be down," says Curtis Prout '37, the Med School's assistant dean for student affairs.

But such optimism belies a drastic drop in applications.

While 4160 applicants vied for 165 spots at the Med School in 1980, only 2438 applied for the same number of openings this year--amounting to a 41 percent decrease.

Harvard's prestigious name may have allowed it to maintain a quality student body despite the smaller pool. Nonetheless, even Harvard officials admit it's getting tougher and tougher to attract qualified applicants.

They say the medical profession is not as appealing as it was twenty years ago. With increased government regulation and a tarnished public image of doctors, less students have opted for a career in medicine.

As a result, schools like Harvard are trying to improve the profession's image the only way they can--by producing more compassionate, well-rounded doctors. Yet to do that, the schools must first make sure that they have a sufficient supply of talented applicants--a task which is becoming increasingly difficult.

The numbers are staggering: According to the American Associa- tion of Medical Colleges, 36,727 studentsapplied to American medical schools in 1981. In1989, only 26,915 applied--a 27 percent drop overnine years.

Students, faculty and practitioners attributethe drop to many causes. Financial constraints,the loss of professional autonomy, increasingfederal regulation and the consistently large timedemands head the list.

Medical tuition increases have matched thehikes in other professional fields. Unfortunately,Harvard doctors say, the salary increases have notmatched those rising costs.

"The costs have increased and the amount ofloan indebtedness has been very critical in all ofthis," says Alvin F. Poussaint, associate dean ofstudent affairs at the Med School.

A 1989 study by the Association of AmericanMedical Colleges found that 83.4 percent of allmedical graduates have educational debts. Theaverage educational debt of graduates in 1988 was$38,489, 8 percent higher than it was the yearbefore.

Med School Dean for Student Affiars CarolaEisenberg adds that tuition hikes have hit Harvardand other private institutions particularly hard,since the high costs have forced many students toattend less expensive state schools.