For the first time in history, women make up the majority of medical students enrolled in U.S. schools, according to 2019 data released by the Association of American Medical Colleges. Yet despite some progress over the years, Louisiana has yet to see female students dominate medical school enrollment.
Across the country, women comprise 50.5% of all medical school students enrolled for the 2019-2020 academic year, the data shows. As the number of female applicants and new enrollees each increased from the previous year, the number of males in both categories declined.
The trend, however, is slower to catch on in Louisiana, where LSU Shreveport is the only of the state’s three medical schools to fall in line with national trends. Even so, year-over-year figures from all three schools reveal that female enrollment has risen over the past several years.
Based on its total enrollment as of Oct. 31, 2019, LSU Shreveport has 289 female students, compared to 260 male students. While female enrollment has risen since 2015 (up from 239), so has male enrollment, though not by as much (from 247 to 260).
On the other hand, men continue to outnumber the women enrolled in the medical schools at both LSU New Orleans and Tulane this academic year.
Only 386 of Tulane’s 802 medical students are women, some 48%. Yet interestingly, the number of female students enrolled is up from the 2015-2016 academic year, when 365 women were enrolled in the school—and the number of men enrolled at the time (448) exceeded the number of male students at Tulane today (416).
Of the 830 medical students enrolled at LSU New Orleans, just 394 are women, compared to 436 males. But like Tulane, over the past four years, LSU New Orleans has seen a decline in male students decrease (from 481 to 436) and a rise in female students (from 336 to 394).
Moreover, since 2017, the school has noticed more women than men enrolling as first-year students, says Dr. Cathy Lazarus, associate dean of student affairs for LSU New Orleans. This year’s first-year class includes 107 women and 96 men, she says.
“Right now, there’s more women than men in higher education in general, so the pool we’re drawing from is larger,” Lazarus says. “The more women that are out in practice, the more role models there are for women who are interested in medicine.”
While certain specialties like OB/GYNs and pediatrics have been dominated by women for some time, Lazarus says her campus is seeing an increasing number of female students pursuing surgery.
These enrollment trends are a big deal because they indicate that women are growing more interested in a career in medicine, which is crucial as the nation faces a projected shortage of as many as 122,000 physicians by 2032.
A growing population of female doctors could also potentially impact the patient experience. Because female patients may have different symptoms than men—even those with similar health conditions—and they experience pain differently, there’s some evidence that women fare better when seen by female doctors, particularly since most doctors are trained to identify and treat symptoms in men.
For example, some studies show that female physicians, especially those in primary care fields, tend to spend more time with patients and apply preventive screening guidelines more consistently.
“I’m not sure that this slight trend means better outcomes,” Lazarus says, “but there’s nothing to indicate that it is a bad thing for health care, or for patients.”