Nov 7, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

With a nationwide shortage of nurses and physicians, the UK's NHS recently opened up more places for medical school. For the first time in history, applications from women are up.

The number of applicants for medical school reached a five-year high of 22,340 -- a 12 percent increase from last year. Women made up the bulk of the increase.

This year, Ucas reports 65,870 people applied to elite courses and universities, which include all programs at Oxford and Cambridge and almost all medicine, dentistry, and veterinary science programs.

Medical schools in the UK, which is working to tackle worker shortages in the NHS, added an additional 500 available places, including at new medical schools in areas which struggle to recruit and keep doctors.

In an article in The Guardian, Clare Owen, assistant director at the Medical Schools Council, said, "Despite eventful times in higher education and beyond [medicine] remains one of the most highly regarded courses. " She added that medical schools want to "encourage applications from groups that haven’t historically had a large presence in medicine."

Who does that include? Women. The Guardian reports that the rise in applications is mostly driven by women who live in the UK, with 25,670 applying -- a 12% rise on last year. Men saw a 4.7% increase, to 19,980.

It helps that there are more spaces available, too. In January, Oxford offered more places to women for the first time in its 1,000-year history. Dr. Samin Khan, Oxford's director of undergraduate admissions and outreach, said that Oxford has worked hard to "reach out to talented candidates from all backgrounds, particularly those from groups under-represented at Oxford."

Learn more about studying medicine in the UK.

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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