The Impact of the Doctor Shortage on Medical School

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doctor shortage

The United States faces a severe medical doctor shortage over the next 12 years. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the US will face a deficit of between 17,800 and 48,000 primary care physicians by 2034.1 The shortage of doctors in other specialties is projected to be even greater.

Why Don’t We Have Enough Doctors?

Greater Need

As people live longer, the need for doctors grows. Older adults typically experience more health problems than the rest of the population, so as life expectancy increases, so does the need for doctors.


In any profession, a significant factor in the loss of workers is retirement. Currently, the generation that falls into the age group during which people typically retire is the baby boomers—in 2023 their ages ranged from 59 to 77.2 And because the baby boomer generation is significantly larger than the generations that preceded it, more people are retiring than ever—including doctors.

COVID-19 and the “Great Resignation”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people, not just doctors, quit their jobs. However, resignations of healthcare workers were particularly notable, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Between April 2020 and November 2021, the “quit rate” of healthcare workers nearly doubled, with the resulting rate being the fourth greatest of all nonfarm professions.3

While the life of a doctor might typically be stressful, the pandemic introduced additional stressors. Hospitals were spilling over with patients, yet they had too few doctors to care for them, so many doctors worked practically nonstop for months on end. The death rate was high during the pandemic, and doctors saw many patients die. They also had to deal with a shortage of personal protection equipment, a risk of exposure, and a lack of effective COVID-19 treatments.

In addition, during the pandemic, verbal and physical violence against frontline healthcare workers—especially physicians and nurses—strongly increased. Some even employed and paid for private protection services.


Even in times without a pandemic, doctors typically work 51- to 60-hour weeks. But burnout isn’t only due to long hours. Doctors spend a lot of time performing administrative tasks, underutilizing their skills and making their work feel less rewarding. Rising costs of medical equipment, malpractice insurance, and medical school tuition have also left some doctors feeling that their income is insufficient. Feeling like you’re not being paid enough could be a significant factor in burnout.

Feelings of burnout may start during medical residency. A medical residency involves long hours and heavy workloads. Supervisors may be highly demanding, and residents feel stress because mistakes could affect patients’ lives.

Limited Number of Residency Spots

To practice medicine in the US, you must complete a residency that lasts anywhere from 3 to 7 years. Unfortunately, there are more students applying for residency than there are positions available. Some students wind up putting their training on hold until positions free up.

Doctor Shortage

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Will the Doctor Shortage Make It Easier to Get Into Med School?

Thus far, there is no evidence that it’s any easier to get into med school now than it was a decade ago. During the 2022-2023 admissions cycle, medical schools accepted about 41% of applicants on average, and this number has been fairly constant over the last 10 years.

However, the good news is that schools typically vary widely in their acceptance rates, and if you do your homework, you may be able to increase your chances of being accepted.

Thoroughly Research Schools

It may be tempting to limit your research to schools you are familiar with—ones that friends or family have attended, those that pop up more frequently when you search the Internet for schools, and so on. However, there are over 150 medical schools in the US, and it could be that many you haven’t even thought of are schools you might be interested in if you knew more about them. One great resource for doing systematic research is the MSAR (Medical School Admissions Requirements). This tool allows you to search, sort, and compare information about medical schools in the US and Canada. You’ll find information such as the median GPA and MCAT scores of accepted students, the number of in-state or out-of-state students, interview formats, teaching methodologies, tuition and fees, and more.

Apply to Schools That Fit

This is where the importance of researching schools could factor in. Your chances of getting accepted to a school may go down if you apply to schools that are out of alignment with your level of academics. If you apply to schools that require MCAT scores of GPAs higher than yours, you might have a much tougher time getting in. Moreover, some schools place more emphasis on GPA, while others on MCAT scores, which means if you are stronger in one area than the other, you could find a school that matches your strengths.

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Apply to Many Schools

By “many” we mean double digits. While there is no magic number, many guidelines specify you should apply to between 20 and 30 schools.

Find Ways to Stand Out

There are other ways to impress med school admissions departments than through grades and scores. Following are some areas to focus on

  • Clinical experience: Gain hands-on clinical experience through internships, volunteering, or work in healthcare settings to showcase your understanding of the medical field.
  • Research experience: Participate in research projects to demonstrate your commitment to enhancing medical knowledge.
  • Extracurricular activities: Engage in extracurricular activities that demonstrate leadership, teamwork, and communication skills.
  • Community service: Volunteer in community service projects, especially those related to healthcare, to highlight your dedication to helping others.
  • Shadowing: Shadowing experienced healthcare professionals provides insight into the daily life of a medical practitioner and strengthens your application.
  • Interview skills: Develop strong interpersonal and communication skills to perform well in interviews. Practice common medical school interview questions.


The doctor shortage is real. The pandemic, rising costs, stress, and burnout have caused many doctors to leave their practice. While the number of med school graduates has increased over the years, getting into med school isn’t any easier than it was a decade ago. But if you are strategic in your approach to applying for schools, you might increase your chances of getting accepted.





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