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Declines seen in other parts of country

Medical school applications steady in Mississippi

Although there may have been dips around 1997 and 1998 in medical school applications nationwide, Mississippi has been pretty steady going for the past five years.

Dr. Steven Case, associate dean for medical school admissions at the University of Mississippi Medical Center School of Medicine, explained that the entire process

of applying is in the midst of a major technology overhaul, which may be one of the reasons for the steady numbers.

This upgrade in technology will not only relieve students from filling out papers, but will also decrease the load of staff at medical schools around the country by

converting paper to electronic transmissions.

Before the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) began changing the process, everything was done on paper. Now prospective medical school

students can simply go to a Web site, fill out in full a form provided and mail it in. The form can also be saved online so students can gather additional information and

add it later.

“I don’t know of anybody who sat down and did this in one shot,” Case said.

The application asks everything from biographical to academic information. Until the application is completed, it is not submitted to AMCAS.

One of the goals of AMCAS is to link together the various phases of the process, making the transition from application to acceptance virtually seamless. Schools all

over the country are preparing for the change, testing and installing prototype software.

“You’re saving not only a week or two mailing, but there’s a lot of Xeroxing and hand-entering (that won’t have to be done),” Case said.

Although last year’s Mississippi applicants may have appeared to drop off slightly (301 in 1999, compared to 343 in 1998 and 286 in 2000), Case said in 1998 there

appeared to be an increase in the number of applications received (there were 311 applications received from Mississippi residents in 1997).

“If I were to guess right now, the number of applications present compared to this time last year, we have increased. If this continues the way it’s going, we will have

increased,” Case said.

The University of Mississippi School of Medicine (UMSM) is the only medical school in Mississippi and is state supported.

The school considers only applicants from Mississippi, whereas private medical schools in the country are open to applicants everywhere. UMSM’s goal is to bring in

100 applicants each year from Mississippi.

“We at times get as many as 600 applicants,” Case said. But those consist of out-of-state applicants as well as incomplete applications.

“If I look at those numbers in the state, while the numbers have fluctuated up and down, the consistency of the people coming in has been constant,” Case said.

Case said regardless of the slight drop off of applicants in the mid-1990s, (in 1995, 308 applications were received and in 1996 313 applications were received) the

quality of the applicants has remained high.

The decrease of applicants to medical school has continued, Case believes, for a few different reasons.

“I think the feeling most people have is that most students coming out of college, there are fewer of them interested in making the time and financial commitment to go

into fields that require long-term study,” he said.

“I don’t think medicine is the only field this is happening in. There are a lot of 28- to 30-year-olds in the high-tech industry,” said Case. “There are other paths, which

are much shorter and certainly less costly to take if your goal is that you want to make a good income.

“And I just get the feeling that society has become more conscious about leisure time, quality of life and family life. I just don’t think there are a lot of people willing to

commit to the amount of time it takes (to become a doctor).”

Dr. Helen Turner, the secretary-treasurer for the Mississippi State Medical Association and the associate dean for academic affairs for UMSM, said the school would

likely continue to admit 100 students per year to the school.

There are several things being used to entice Mississippi college students to go to UMSM and then to practice in Mississippi.

One program that recently began in Mississippi will help to get up to 20 students per year funding for medical school and an emphasis in family medicine.

“The only qualification is they have to be willing to serve in rural Mississippi,” said Dr. Melessa Phillips, chair of the Family Medicine Department. Graduates must

agree to practice in rural Mississippi for 10 years.

“Now they don’t have to go into a higher paying specialty,” Phillips said.

Another thing that has been done to keep students in Mississippi for their residency was the development of the Area Health Education Centers (AHEC’s), federally

funded programs. The first one opened in Mississippi three years ago.

The purpose of AHEC’s is the partnership they form between the center and the rural community.

“In a rural state like Mississippi, it’s crucial we attract people. In family medicine, over 80% (of graduates) stay in Mississippi and practice in small towns,” Phillips

said. “But the AHEC gets students interested in seeing how they can stay in touch.”

The goal of the AHEC is to show people that, no matter their background, they can go to dental or medical school.

“Our hope is to attract youngsters who are from small communities who want to do family practice but thought they could never afford it,” Phillips said.

According to Phillips, the average amount of debt of a student just out of medical school in Mississippi is about $60,000. Nationally, that number is about $80,000 to

$85,000.

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1042.

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