Medical Schools Are Seeing 18% Increase in Applications, Thanks to the ‘Fauci Effect’

How the pandemic is mobilizing the next generation of service-minded doctors

janatun Islam
4 min readDec 15, 2020

Photo: Kristine Wook via Unsplash

Inspired by the example set by community physicians and public health advocates working tirelessly on the front lines of the Covid-19 crisis, many medical schools across the country are reporting a noticeable influx of applications: Stanford University School of Medicine saw a steep 50% spike in applications from last year; the University of Washington School of Medicine reported a 26% increase in applicants across its six campuses, and Tulane University School of Medicine rose 35% compared to last year. NPR reported earlier this week, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) said that the overall number of medical school applications is at an all-time high and is up 18% from last year. For context, over the past decade, the year-over-year increase in applications is typically less than 3%, according to AAMC data. The uptick in applications has led some medical school admissions officers to dub the phenomenon the “Fauci effect.” It’s a deferential nod to Dr. Anthony Fauci, MD, longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), who has emerged as the public face of the coronavirus response and is considered to be one of the most trusted and effective, nonpartisan public health communicators.

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For his part, Fauci, 79, who has served under six presidents over the past 36 years and was recently asked by President-elect Joe Biden to serve as his chief medical adviser, initially shied away from taking too much credit:

Probably a more realistic assessment is that, rather than the “Fauci effect,” it’s the effect of a physician who is trying to and hopefully succeeding in having an important impact on an individual’s health as well as on global health. So if it works to get more young individuals into medical school, go ahead and use my name. Be my guest.

Still, on hearing the news, the much-admired physician and scientist known for working 18-hour days, said he was “very flattered.”

Another reason why medical school applications are on the rise? With so much economic uncertainty in the near-term future, recent college graduates and other prospective applicants have had plenty of time to study for the MCAT exam, improve test scores if needed, and dedicate more energy to the rigorous and generally time-consuming application process. The surge in medical school applications corresponds with the rise in other post-secondary graduate degrees, including law and business degree programs.