CU Anschutz medical school sees 35% increase in applications from last year

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AURORA | Applications to the University of Colorado School of Medicine increased significantly this year, and the pandemic may explain part of the reasoning. 

The medical school on the Anschutz campus in north Aurora saw a 35% increase in applications while the nursing school saw a 42% increase to one of its programs.

At a University of Colorado Board of Regents retreat in early January, Anschutz Chancellor Don Eillman suggested the increase could be a “Fauci effect” caused by an increased interest in the medical field due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the critical role health care professionals, such as presidential pandemic advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci have played. However, admissions officers say the reasons are likely more multifaceted.

The CU School of Medicine had 14,094 applications for the 184 seats in the medical school class that will begin in August 2021, Anschutz spokesperson Julia Milzner told the Sentinel. That is a 35% increase from last year. 

That’s much higher than the national increase of 18%, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The class that began in August 2020 received 10,431 applications, a 20% increase from the previous year. The CU College of Nursing saw an increase of 42-43% in application for the RN to BS program and a 4% increase in its traditional bachelor’s program, Milzner said.

Dr. Jeffrey SooHoo, the School of Medicine’s associate dean for admissions, said that because applications for this year were only submitted a few months after the pandemic arrived in the U.S. in earnest, he’s skeptical of how big a role the “Fauci effect” played.

“I think there might be a small signal there but I don’t think it’s the bulk,” he said. He’s curious to see what next year’s applicant pool looks like.

In fact, admissions to the school have been steadily growing since well before the pandemic, doubling from 7,000 just five years ago.

SooHoo believes that’s due to the longtime work the Anschutz campus has put into integrating clinical work, research and education to become a national powerhouse in addition to being a regional center of excellence.

“We’re starting to get this deserved — in my opinion — national reputation,” he said, with applications coming from all 50 states as well as internationally.

Tammy Spencer, assistant dean at the CU College of Nursing, said the applications that are currently being processed for the summer 2021 nursing program are where she is starting to see the pandemic have an impact. Applicants to that program began to apply after the pandemic started to make waves in the U.S.

“Anecdotally, as far as reviewing applicants I have seen much more of a want or an interest to go into nursing based on what people are seeing as the role of the nurse during the pandemic,” she said.

Carmen Stephens, an assistant professor of clinical teaching in the nursing school who looks over applications, concurred.

“Students readily admitted that we’re in a time where healthcare has been front and center,” she said. “That can positively impact someone’s desire to want to step in.”

Spencer guessed that the impact of COVID-19 will probably continue for at least several more admission cycles, though it’s too soon to say what exactly that will look like.

Anschutz’s campus culture is also a draw for students, she said. She cited the research it’s producing, students’ ability to get an interdisciplinary education and their ability to get hands-on experience through its partnership with Denver Health as strong attractions.

“It’s a very special environment,” Stephens said.

One challenge medical schools will have to deal with in the coming years is the fact that COVID-19 has canceled many of the opportunities for people to get prior experience in the healthcare field, something admissions officers like to see in applications.

Medical schools will have to be flexible, SooHoo said, and will look to see if applicants turned to other kinds of public service work during the pandemic instead, such as volunteering at a food bank or tutoring students in online learning.

He hopes the pandemic has helped people to see how vital the healthcare industry is to society.

“It’s an amazing profession,” SooHoo said. “It’s an amazing way to live your life.”

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