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Applications For St. Louis Med Schools Soar, Part Of The National ‘Fauci Effect’

Zoe Floyd, a recent graduate of Metro Academic and Classical High School, will begin at St. Louis University's Doisy College of Health Sciences this fall. She said the pandemic demonstrated how invaluable work in the medical field is.
Zoe Floyd
Zoe Floyd, a recent graduate of Metro Academic and Classical High School, celebrates her admission into St. Louis University's Doisy College of Health Sciences.

Audra Youmans was just six months into her freshman year at St. Louis University when the COVID-19 pandemic sent her back home to Fenton.

But the transition didn’t stop her from learning. As she began volunteering with unhoused communities, she witnessed the impact of the virus, including packed hospitals and widening health disparities.

All of which gave her a clearer vision of what she wanted for her future: to be a doctor.

“I really got to see how that impacts people on a real world, real person level,” said Youmans, a pre-med student. “And that’s what drove me further into fully deciding that this is what I’m going to do.”

Youmans is just one of many whose ideas for their future were shaped by the pandemic. She’s part of a national movement of young people inspired to pursue medicine — a phenomenon dubbed the "Fauci effect."

Nationwide, medical school applications jumped 18% for this fall, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. The trend is mirrored locally with applications for this fall up by about 22% at Washington University and around 28% at St. Louis University from the previous year.

Valerie Ratts, Washington University Medical School dean of admissions, said many students likely observed the need for more physicians last year.

“Medicine was important, and it became obvious from all the things happening with COVID and what we were all visualizing — this thought that maybe this is a calling, maybe this is something that I want to do,” Ratts said.

Zoe Floyd has wanted to pursue medicine since she was 8 years old, but it was the COVID-19 pandemic that opened her eyes to how invaluable the work is.

“It reinforced the fact that health care will always be something that’s important. Doctors, physicians and nurses will always be in demand, and there will always be someone who needs your help,” said Floyd, who plans to attend SLU as a pre-med student in the fall.

In addition to the example set by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, medical school admission officers say the surge may be attributed to students having fewer options. In other years, students might have taken a gap year to travel or seized other opportunities before applying to medical school.

“None of those opportunities existed last year. With everything shut down, they decided to go ahead and move on and apply to med school,” Ratts said.

The result was a competitive season of applications. With only 100 spots at Washington University and around 175 at St. Louis University, medical school admission officers had to make difficult decisions last year, Ratts said.

Despite the long hours of reviewing applications, Hiral Choksi, St. Louis University Medical School dean of admissions, was elated to see more people interested in medicine. She believes it’s a sign of what’s to come.

“Everyone has their own health to be looked after, and to have more people who are there to help serve the community is the best thing we could ask for,” Choksi said.

Youmans will begin her application for medical school next summer — which she hopes will lead to a career as a primary care doctor working with the unhoused.

“The pandemic really showed the disparity that is in our community right here in St. Louis,” she said. “That’s really where I want to jump in.”

Follow Kendall on Twitter: @kcrawfish33