How Are Medical Schools Ranked? Understanding the Criteria

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Many aspiring doctors covet a spot in a highly-ranked medical school. You may be one of them.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to attend a highly-ranked, well established, brand name medical school. You should be informed about how these rankings are generated and whether they actually mean what we think they mean. Here’s a little insight into the often controversial medical school rankings list.

Posing in scrubs outside Morogoro Regional Hospital The US News & World Report is the most well known school-ranking list.  There are two listings that are published every year: the rankings of best primary care medical schools and the rankings of the best research medical schools.  Your interest in either list depends upon the career path you anticipate, whether you are planning to pursue a career as a practicing physician or whether you will use your medical degree to pursue a career as a medical researcher.  This article will focus on the primary care rankings.

Multiple factors are considered when calculating and finalizing the rankings list.  Schools are rated by peer institutions as well as other student-driven data.  This data includes:

1. Number of graduates who actually enter into primary care residencies after completing medical school

2. Average MCAT score of its entering class (the higher the score, the better!)

3. Average undergraduate GPA (again, the higher your GPA, the better!)

4. Applicant acceptance rate (the lower the acceptance rate, the better the ranking)

It’s a high stakes numbers game which results in controversy every year.  In its most recently released rankings, the following schools ranked in the Top Ten for best primary care medical schools across the US:

1.University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

2. University of Washington

3. Oregon Health and Science University

4. University of California-San Francisco

5. University of Colorado-Denver

6. University of Nebraska Medical Center

7. University of Minnesota

8. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

9. University of Massachusetts-Worcester

10. University of Alabama-Birmingham

Interestingly, the rankings list for research-oriented medical schools yields a different set of big names, and the reason for this is due to the differing criteria used to generate the rankings.  There are over 120 medical schools in the USA, and of course many, many more throughout the world, so this list is but a small sample of the possible options available to students seeking a medical degree. 

Equally important is the ranking list of specialties within each medical school.  Some schools are well known for their pediatrics training, while others are renowned for their surgical specialties.  Research these rankings as well if you already have an idea of the specialty you would like to pursue.  The top ranked school may be most respected for its primary care training and residencies, but if they rank lower in terms of the specialty which most interests you, then seeking admission to that school would be counter-productive to your career goals.

There is an adage in medical school circles that even the student who finishes last in the class is still given the title DOCTOR.  So while rankings may be important to many people, what matters most is finding the ideal fit for your professional goals, temperament, and anticipated specialty area. — Post by Madelaine Kingsbury.

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