Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine.

Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine has seen a 17% increase in the number of applicants versus the same time in 2019. The NU number is basically the same as the nationwide increase of 18%, according to the Association of American Medical Schools.

But while some analysts have attributed the jump to what they’re calling the “Fauci Factor,” a growing interest in public health and epidemiology due to the coronavirus pandemic, an admissions expert at NU’s med school says “it just doesn’t work that way.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci rose to public prominence this spring, after COVID-19 exploded across the country.

But Dr. Roopal Kundu, associate dean of admissions at Feinberg, says “to suddenly say you’re going to medical school” makes no sense. Most prospective doctors, she says, plan on med school several years before applying, and have to take a series of prerequisite courses to even qualify for admission. That all had to begin long before COVID-19 and Dr. Fauci’s place in the spotlight.

“You can’t just apply to med school” on a whim, Dr. Kundu says. Plus, at $60,000 a year tuition times four years, that’s a pretty expensive whim.

The pandemic, however, may have had at least some impact on the increasing number of applicants. Dr. Kundu says some candidates take a year or two off after undergraduate school, to do volunteer or social service work before taking med school entrance exams and applying to get in.

The pandemic, she says, canceled a lot of those volunteer opportunities, so it’s possible that some applicants are trying to get in to medical school now, rather than in the future, although that’s hard to quantify. So it’s not easy to determine why applications are increasing, just that the “Fauci Factor” is not a good reason.

Despite the increase in applicants, Northwestern is not adding to the size of its entering medical school class … 160 people.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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