After a medical school building boom in the 1960s and 1970s, only one new medical school was founded in the entire United States between 1980 and 2000 (Mercer University School of Medicine in Georgia). With healthcare reform looming in some form, there will likely be far more patients needing more complex care with too few physicians to help them, especially in primary care.
A 2008 analysis of physician supply published in The New England Journal of Medicine states that in 1981, the U.S. Congress believed that a physician surplus was looming. As a result, it cut the federal funding that once supported medical school education and expansion. With discontinued federal support, there was little incentive to establish new medical schools, and medical school enrollment remained fairly static from 1980 to 2002, rising from 16,000 to just 16,488.
The good news: More medical schools are now being built. But how does that affect you?
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• Enhanced admissions prospects at U.S. medical schools: For bright applicants with mid to low GPAs or a red flag that would otherwise shut them out of more established, super-competitive medical schools, these schools would be a great option. Applicants may be weary of applying to a brand new school, or may be unaware of its existence, so new schools will receive fewer applications for some time.
• Expansion of newer medical schools: Since many of the new schools have either just admitted their inaugural classes or will do so in the next few years, a good number will plan to grow. Most schools admit a small inaugural class and then increase (or plan to increase) the number of spots substantially. For example, the Hofstra University School of Medicine in Hempstead, N.Y., plans to expand its class of 60 matriculants by up to 20 students per year until it reaches 100.
• Established ties with large research institutions: A good portion of these nascent schools are already connected to some reputable research institutions and teaching hospitals, such as the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, which brings together Virginia Tech and the Carilion Clinic, and the Hofstra North Shore–LIJ School of Medicine, which represents a partnership of Hofstra and the Long Island Jewish Medical Center. With these new medical schools linked with preexisting research institutions, it would be a great way to try out a new medical school linked to a well-known institution.
Though it may be less competitive at this time to secure admission to these schools, consider some of the disadvantages of attending a relatively new medical school:
• Untested residency match success rate: Although many of these schools have had their inaugural classes, they largely haven't graduated anyone yet. As of 2011, the majority of schools simply cannot provide United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) pass rates and scores, as their students have yet to take them. It also remains to be seen how favorably residency programs will look upon new schools as of yet. These schools also lack an alumni base with which you can network.
• No or few upper classes: Though it can sometimes be an exciting opportunity to be in a school's pioneering inaugural class, you lose the some of the camaraderie and mentorship, such as tips on how to succeed in classes and clerkships. It's important to reflect on what motivates you: relative independence or more guidance.
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• Locations: Though it's not the Caribbean, many of these new U.S. medical schools were established by the needs of the funding source, whether state or private. As a result, many tend to be in rural areas, and the majority of medical students and physicians tend to prefer urban areas. The schools don't typically obligate you to practice in that area, but some were established with the intent to encourage graduates to stay in rural practice.
Deciding whether to apply to a more established U.S. school or foreign school or take a chance on a new medical school is difficult. Being informed both about the schools and your personal feelings is crucial when planning the next step of your education.
Ibrahim Busnaina, M.D. is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and coauthor of "Examkrackers' How to Get Into Medical School." He has been consulting with prospective medical school applicants, with a special focus on minority and other nontraditional candidates, since 2006.
Corrected 4/4/12: A previous version of this post misstated the location of Hofstra University.