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Medical School Applications Decline

January 23, 1998

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Bradley Tevelow wasn’t surprised to hear that fewer people are applying to medical school these days _ the standards are tougher and business offers an ``endless supply″ of money.

``I have friends who have tried to make that decision between Wall Street and med school,″ said Tevelow, 23, a University of Pennsylvania medical student from Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

Starting salaries of $70,000, he said, are more attractive than paying off $180,000 in school loans over four years.

Whatever the reasons, the nation has posted its first decline in medical school applications in nearly a decade after years of robust growth. The number for the 1997 fall incoming class dropped 8.4 percent from the previous year, when a record 46,968 people applied for 16,000 first-year slots.

And the number of applications for this fall is expected to be even smaller, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, which tracks the numbers.

``There doesn’t seem to be a simple explanation, and that suggests there are a combination of factors,″ said Dr. Jordan Cohen, the association’s president. ``My guess is it in part reflects that the economy is improving and there are other attractive options for people who would think of applying to medical school.″

One element is the 11 percent drop in minority applicants from 1996 to 1997, which Cohen attributes partly to affirmative action rollbacks in California, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

And there’s the cost. A year of tuition for Tevelow, for example, is $27,250. Cara Pellegrini, 22, a first-year Penn student, said there are also concerns about how managed care will affect the profession.

``You’ve invested all this effort and you’re not quite sure what’s going to be waiting for you,″ she said. ``People are scared of that.″

Some 43,000 people nationwide applied for the current academic year. The AAMC estimates that 41,000 students will apply for entrance this fall, 12.5 percent drop from the peak year, 1996-97.

Even the nation’s top medical schools have seen fewer applications.

``The applicant pool has started to decline,″ said David Trabilsy, assistant dean for admissions at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where applications have dropped about 14 percent over two years.

Still, the Baltimore school has nearly 3,300 applicants for 120 openings this fall.

``When the economy is not as strong, the pool tends to go up because medicine, I think, is seen as a secure, stable profession,″ Trabilsy said. ``When we’re starting to see a decline, it’s because the economy may be stronger, and there’s more opportunities in a wider range of fields.″

Administrators said there was no cause for alarm because they still choose from a large and high-caliber pool of applicants.

``We’re now at a level that I think probably has the right balance,″ Trabilsy said this week.

After a low of 26,721 in 1988, the number of applicants grew rapidly to the peak two years ago.

At Penn, applicants for this fall are down more than 16 percent from 1996, said Dr. Richard Tannen, senior vice dean. Still, some 7,400 people are seeking 150 slots, and he said the quality is slightly stronger than last year.

Even if other fields are more lucrative, Frank Wren, 25, the president of Penn’s Medical Student Government, said the profession hasn’t lost its primary appeal.

``It’s still the best place if you want to help people,″ he said.

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