For the first time ever, women outnumbered men among applicants this fall to the nation’s medical schools — a milestone in the slow but steady increase in the number of aspiring female doctors.

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Nearly 35,000 men and women applied for the 2003-04 school year, a 3.4 percent increase over last year and the first increase since 1996. More than 17,600 of the applicants — or 50.8 percent — were women, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Women have yet to surpass the number of men actually entering medical school. Nationwide this fall, women were closer than ever to making up the majority of new students, constituting 49.7 percent of the entering class of more than 16,500.

AAMC President Dr. Jordan J. Cohen recalled that in his 1960 Harvard class of 150 students, there were six women. That was, he said, “a banner year” for the time.

“When I was in medical school, it simply was assumed that medicine was not only a male profession, but was a white male profession,” he said.

The proportion of female applicants to men has risen steadily for years. For the 1993-94 entering class, women made up 41.9 percent of the more than 42,800 applicants, up from 34 percent of the more than 35,100 applicants a decade earlier. In 1963, they were 8.1 percent of the almost 17,700 applicants.

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