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Female Medical School Applicants on the Rise

The Association of Future Female Physicians supports BYU's female students interested in medical school.

Women pursuing medicine are breaking records. In 2020, a historic 53.4% of medical school applicants were female, according to the American Medical College Application Services. This development follows a trend of rising female applicants, from 46.9% in 2015 to 50.5% in 2019. (Association of American Medical Colleges 2019)

Despite the data, applicants from BYU do not reflect these national trends. According to Kris Tina Carlston, director of the BYU Pre-Professional Advisement Center, female students make up only 13-15% of all BYU medical school applicants.

“BYU’s numbers are not necessarily a reflection of the number of female students who want to go to medical school, or who are qualified and capable of successfully completing medical school,” Carlston says. “But rather, the disparity between the national average and BYU’s average indicates that there is likely a disconnect between the interests, skill sets, and perceived roadblocks of our female students.”

To address the challenges and provide a supportive community for BYU’s female students interested in applying to medical school, students at BYU established the Association of Future Female Physicians (AFFP). The club provides support, mentorship, guidance, and access to resources to assist female students in their journey to becoming a physician. “We want to collect them all!” says Audrey Wade, AFFP co-president. “This is a club for any woman who needs to feel spiritually and intellectually supported on their path to medicine.”

Cassey Cha, AFFP co-president, believes that lack of support is one of the key reasons BYU females do not apply to medical school. “I think a lot of women have never considered [medicine] a valid career option, and they have few examples of women to look up to,” she says. “The lack of cultural and structural support for women pre-med students makes it easier for them to quit when the pre-med track becomes overwhelming. But when the important people in a person’s life support them, they can overcome the obstacles.”

Wade understands how some women may feel uncertain about their decision to apply to medical school. The challenging nature of medical school and the life that accompanies it can dissuade many, but Wade felt called to the path. “I always wanted to be a doctor growing up, but I wondered whether it was right for me,” she says. “I finally realized that pursuing a career as a physician was a spiritual decision for me, and God was by my side.”

Cha agrees: “I know that my resolve to pursue medicine has weakened at points in my college career, but the unconditional support of my family and the undeniable feeling that God has called me to do it strengthens my resolve to keep going. When anyone—male or female—feels that support, they can literally do anything.”

Emily Graham, a medical student at The University of Utah and a BYU nursing program graduate, also felt spiritually called to pursue medicine: “I feel like God has given me very specific talents, and this is something that I need to do with my life.” She recalls feeling alone and unsupported in her goals: “On those hard days, I’m willing to suffer through the work because I remember why I want to be a doctor in the first place. I want to heal as many people as I possibly can. In the end, this is what's going to make my life meaningful to me.”

Dr. Nicole Law earned her undergraduate degree at BYU and then graduated from George Washington University Medical School. She remembers having to overcome feelings of anxiety about her decision to become a physician.

“I think one of the hard things for me was feeling that going into medicine almost felt like I was doing something wrong,” Law says. “Nowhere in the scriptures have I ever read, ‘Thou shalt not be a doctor if you're a woman,’ or ‘Thou shall not further your education’.”

Now in residency at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center, Law describes her journey as one full of sacrifices. “I won't sugarcoat it,” she says. “It really is a lot of work. Medical school is not for everyone, and we are all on different paths. But if your path is towards medicine, do not let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t do it.”

BYU’s Pre-Professional Advisement Center pre-med advisors aim to provide support and guidance to help students determine if they want to become a physician. They advise on choosing coursework and extra-curricular activities to become a more competitive applicant. They also run informative workshops and webinars that walk through various aspects of a career in medicine, as well as opportunities to meet with physicians and other like-minded students.

“We can be a cheerleader for [students] and show them different ways they can accomplish their goals,” says pre-med advisor Kye Barnett. “It's important to build an infrastructure of support around you. If this is what you want to do, we want to help you put your best foot forward.”

Wade is confident that the AFFP and the Pre-Professional Advisement Center can help BYU students become strong medical school applicants. “The BYU pre-med community is smart, savvy, compassionate, caring, and spiritual,” she says. “When we come together, we can support each other to achieve our dreams.”

Dr. Law’s tips for becoming a physician:

  1. Research: find out as much as you can and then decide if it's for you! 
  2. Explore: take a few classes about the human body that give you a glimpse into what you will be learning in medicine, such as anatomy or physiology.
  3. Shadow: find opportunities to follow a physician. This is the best way to glimpse into the world of medicine. See what a day in a doctor’s life is like, ask questions, and experience for yourself what the job entails. 
  4. Ask: don’t hesitate to ask questions. Talk to as many people as possible about a life in medicine. Talk to other pre-med students, talk to people applying, talk to people in medical school, talk to residents, and talk to physicians. Find anyone you can in medicine and pick their brain.
  5. Persevere: do your absolute best to become an excellent applicant. Get involved in community service and crush your GPA and MCAT scores as best as you can. Don’t let a mediocre grade or MCAT score discourage you though. If you work hard and show med schools what you’re made of, you will make it.
Infographic on medical school matriculation 2020
Photo by American Medical College Application Services