South Dakota students drawn to med school by what some are calling ‘The Fauci Effect’


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — There is no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for those working in health care. And the political fighting over mask mandates and vaccines has created tension in an already high-pressure field.

Zack Lawrence is a surgical intern at Sanford Hospital in Sioux Falls. This Illinois native and med school graduate started out as a music major but found his calling in medicine.

“I realized that I really wanted a career that at the end of the day really made me feel like I was really making a difference in the world,” said Lawrence.

When it comes to the frustration over politics and misinformation concerning COVID-19, Lawrence believes people his age are less affected by it, because they grew up with Google, instant messaging and social media and understand the limitations.

“I guarantee you that every one of us going into medicine right now has at one time in our lives, “Dr. Googled” something, so I think that at least I can speak for myself, I take this as an opportunity to, I’m inspired by the opportunity to educate people on how that is sort of a dangerous path and help guide people to the correct information,” said Lawrence.

The Dean of the USD Sanford School of Medicine says he has been impressed with how students have responded during the pandemic. Instead of being discouraged by the controversies, Dr. Tim Ridgway believes more young people are being drawn to medicine because of what medical schools across the country are referring to as “The Fauci Effect.”

“Obviously when you mention his name you are going to get a lot of mixed reactions but one of the prevailing thought is that Dr. Fauci just has been so prominent in the media and many of these young people look at him as a hero in trying to guide and steer us through this pandemic. So it’s been referred to as The Fauci Effect that these young people want to become doctors, like Dr. Fauci. And one of the comparisons was with 9/11. with 9/11 we saw a marked increase in the numbers of people enrolling in the military and we are seeing the same things in medical school in 2021,” said Dr. Ridgeway.

Ridgway says when the pandemic first hit they had to pull students from hospital duties for their own safety.

“That was devastating for them. What did they do? They volunteered to help the health care workers take care of their kids to bring them food they wanted to do anything they could to support the health care providers. “That to me as a dean is very encouraging that we are getting students here in medical school for the right reasons,” said Ridgway.

Ridgway says the numbers back up what he is seeing in terms of young people wanting to be doctors. In 2020 there were a little more than 700 applicants for the USD Sanford School of Medicine. Last year that number jumped to more than a thousand applications.

“It is getting even more competitive which means more people are applying which means more very serious very committed people are applying,” said Lawrence.

While the number of people wanting to become doctors is increasing, the number of future nurses continues to drop. A recent lack of respect and the constant influx of misinformed patients are discouraging some young people from going into nursing. The United States Department of Health and Human Services predicts South Dakota as one of the seven states that will have the greatest need for nurses by 2030.

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