Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Do Medical School Rankings Matter?

Every year medical students agonize over medical school rankings. Specifically, like "AHHHH! MEDICAL SCHOOL RANKINGS ARE COMING OUT SOON!" Pre-Med students are famous for being Type A "gunners" who are at high risk for obsessive compulsive disorder. An exaggeration to be sure and not true of all, but the fact remains that data about rankings in the hands of people who are geared for high achievement tend to produce more angst than relief. 

The simple fact is: one cannot boil medical education down to a single ranking! The U.S. News And World Report's Best Medical School Rankings does not even try. It actually breaks the ranks down into research and primary care lists. Oddly enough, most people focus on the research rankings, despite the fact that primary care is what medicine is all about! Taking a look at the two sets of rankings and you quickly realize that the correlation between the two is far from perfect.

As a pre-med student or medical student, which list do you follow? The simple answer is: both! You have to realize which list best applies to you. Are you more interested in research and considering an MD/PhD or similar joint degree? If so, focus on the research rankings. Do you instead prefer caring for the underserved, working internationally, or perhaps rural medicine? Then focus on the primary care rankings. Not sure yet? Try to see which schools rank highly on both. As a guide, the list below shows the top 10 medical schools in primary care with their research rankings (in parentheses); the list below it has the top 10 medical schools in research with their primary care rankings (in parentheses):

Top 10 Medical Schools Research Rankings (Primary Care Rank)
1. Harvard University (17)
2. University of Pennsylvania (7)
3. Johns Hopkins University (25) 
4. University of California - San Francisco (5)
4. Washington University - St. Louis (30)
6. Duke University (42)
6. University of Michigan (14)
6. University of Washington (1)
6. Yale (87)
10. Columbia University (62)

Top 10 Medical Schools Primary Care Rankings (Research Rank)
1. University of Washington (6)
2. University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill (20)
3. Oregon Health Sciences University (37)
4. University of Vermont (55)
5. University of California - San Francisco (4)
5. University of Colorado - Denver (27)
7. Michigan State University (-)
7. University of Pennsylvania (2)
9. University of Massachusetts - Worcester (47)
10. University of Iowa - Carver (27)

As you can see, there are some huge disparities. The only schools to make both lists are University of Washington, UCSF, and UPenn. Clearly, if you are unsure of your future career focus, you have better odds of finding out at those three schools. While the USN&WR rankings are not 100% correct, they do serve as a reasonable proxy for the actual underlying quality. Ultimately, you have to make a decision from the heart about what place is right for you. 

1. U.S. News & World Report Best Medical Schools Research Rankings. http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-medical-schools/research-rankings. Accessed December 21, 2010

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