Trends in Medical School Application and Matriculation Rates Across the United States From 2001 to 2015: Implications for Health Disparities

Acad Med. 2021 Jun 1;96(6):885-893. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000004033.


Purpose: Socioeconomic and geographic determinants of medical school application and matriculation may help explain the unequal distribution of physicians in the United States. This study describes trends in MD-granting medical school application and matriculation rates and explores the relationship between county median family income, proximity to a medical school, and medical school application and matriculation rates.

Method: Data were obtained from the Association of American Medical Colleges, including the age, gender, and Federal Information Processing Standards code for county of legal residence for each applicant and matriculant to U.S. MD-granting medical schools from 2001 through 2015. The application and matriculation rates in each county were calculated using the number of applicants and matriculants per 100,000 residents. Counties were classified into 4 groups according to the county median family income (high-income, middle-income, middle-low-income, low-income). The authors performed chi-square tests to assess trends across the study period and the association of county median family income with application and matriculation rates.

Results: There were 581,833 applicants and 262,730 (45.2%) matriculants to MD-granting medical schools between 2001 and 2015. The application rates per 100,000 residents during 2001-2005, 2006-2010, and 2011-2015 were 57.2, 62.7, and 69.0, respectively, and the corresponding matriculation rates were 27.5, 28.1, and 29.8. The ratios of the application rate in high-income counties to that in low-income counties during the 3 time periods were 1.9, 2.4, and 2.8, respectively.

Conclusions: The application and matriculation rates to MD-granting medical schools increased steadily from 2001 to 2015. Yet, applicants and matriculants disproportionately came from high-income counties. The differences in the application and matriculation rates between low-income and high-income counties grew during this period. Exploring these differences can lead to better understanding of the factors that drive geographic differences in physician access and the associated health disparities across the United States.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Career Choice
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Residence Characteristics
  • School Admission Criteria / trends*
  • Schools, Medical / trends*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Students, Medical / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States
  • Young Adult