The UND medical school has seen a 40% uptick in applications compared to this time last year and around a 25% increase over the past few years, according to the associate dean of student affairs & admissions at the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

“There's a significant uptick in applications in the original applications coming to the school, and then the secondary applications that we get for interviews,” Jim Porter said.

It's not a phenomenon unique to UND – medical schools across the country are seeing an upswing in applications, too. As of December, the number of applications has increased by 18% over 2019, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

What’s driving the increase?

It may be the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the example set by health care workers and public health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation's leading doctors during the pandemic and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

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The jump in applications has been dubbed the “Fauci effect.”

“I think the pandemic has pointed out to a lot of very motivated, altruistic young people that they need to take some ownership of what happens in this world,” said Dr. Joshua Wynne, dean of UND’s medical school.

One way they can do that is going into a health profession like medicine.

“I think that it does speak to the altruism and dedication of young people, as seeing it as a real calling to try to help the world become a better place, and specifically, in this case, help North Dakota become a better place,” Wynne said.

The increase in interest in the medical field is "unprecedented," Geoffrey Young, the AAMC's senior director for student affairs and programs, told NPR last month. Young said the only comparison he could make to what is happening now with medical applications would be the dramatic increase in people who entered the military following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Although more people are applying for UND’s medical school, that doesn’t necessarily mean the school will increase its class sizes or admit a large number of extra students, Wynne noted.

“Our class size is largely fixed, not so much by finances, not so much by dictums or policy, but, quite frankly, by the number of clinical opportunities that medical students in particular have after their initial education,” Wynne said.

Medical school is broken into two halves, Wynne explained. The first is based around lectures and in-class learning, the second on clinical practice, where students learn in actual medical facilities.

But North Dakota, due to its smaller population, has a limited number of medical providers to work with, Wynne said. UND students already are working in the four major cities and six major providers in the state, as well as in the rural areas. There isn’t a lot of space to put more students.

“We have to rely on our clinical partners and their primary mission is patient care," Wynne said. "So they accommodate us, they help us with the educational experience, but there are finite spots available and we obviously don’t want to get in the way of patient care. So were limited.”

Still, the increase in applications will make for a very competitive class, Porter said.

Wynne noted that 91% of North Dakotans who attend medical school do so at UND.

“The increase in applications will mean either more students from North Dakota are getting interested in medicine and/or we're attracting more students out there,” he said. “The bottom line is, I think it's a testament to the value proposition that the School of Medicine and Health Sciences offers, which is an excellent education at a modest cost.”