Applying to Medical School

Medical School Rankings Threatening Future of Health Care?

One of the many important decisions a future physician will make in his or her career is the medical school they choose to attend. The highly competitive application process is supposedly designed to ensure that our matriculating medical students will be able and want to contribute transformative innovation to the communities and institutions in which they end up working. However, given the dynamic nature of our healthcare system, many in the field of medical education have dutifully been questioning whether our medical training is advancing alongside our society’s needs.

Does the Ranking of Medical Schools Matter?

It honestly depends on what your future goals are as a physician. Do you aspire to match into a hypercompetitive specialty one day? If so, a higher-ranked medical school will most likely have more resources for you to match into that specialty, such as research, network, and clinical rotation opportunities. But that’s not to say if you go to a lower-ranked medical school you won’t match into a hypercompetitive specialty. It ultimately boils down to the amount of work you put in and how badly you want to match into that specialty.

In Dr. Jordan Cohen’s JAMA article, “Will Changes in the MCAT and USMLE Ensure That Future Physicians Have What It Takes?“ he discusses the new era of healthcare challenges our country faces. Dr. Cohen, who is the former president of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), rightly points out the need for future trainees and physicians who can understand the need for a system that attends to the trifecta of quality, cost, and access. But he doesn’t identify one of the most telling reasons behind why top medical schools may not be admitting the right applicants.

||Read: Does Undergraduate Reputation Matter For Admissions?||

Part of the answer, and an equally important part of the equation, is whether pre-medical students are selecting the “right” medical schools, which in large part has to do with medical school rankings.

What Is the #1 Medical School in the US?

Currently, Harvard Medical School is ranked as the #1 medical in the U.S., however, that will soon change. Harvard Medical School has taken notice of the detriments of using medical school ranking systems, and because of this, they’ve decided to stop submitting data to U.S. News and World Report in their “Best Medical Schools” ranking.

A considerable percentage of what goes into ranking medical schools are academic measures. Dr. Cohen recognizes that the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) cannot and should not be the sole factors that are used to differentiate students most suited to be leaders and innovators in medicine. It is a well-known fact that medical school rankings, primarily by US News and World Report, have a strong influence on students’ decisions for matriculation. To attract the best and brightest applicants, many medical schools and health systems do what is needed to improve their rankings. Would Harvard still be Harvard if it were not consistently ranked 1 or 2?

||Read: Getting Into Medical School: Seek Help Early||

But if we look more closely at the US News ranking methodology, the only metric assessing the quality of matriculating students is average MCAT score and average college grade point average (GPA). These two factors alone contribute to nearly 20% of the medical school’s research ranking, which is traditionally the categorical ranking that the media uses when they report that Harvard Medical School or Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine continues to reign as the “best” medical schools in the country. Thus, the system incentivizes medical schools to favor the applicants with the best numbers to increase their own ranking, and by doing so, these rankings incentivize pre-medical students to strive for the highest scores possible.

||Read: Are Medical School Rankings Important?||

There is, however, no formal recognition of the qualities that Dr. Cohen points out to be more important to the future of our dynamic healthcare system — innovation, initiative, empathy, or diversity, to name a few.

While the Association of American Medical Colleges may be “actively promoting a holistic approach to medical school admissions,” as Dr. Cohen quotes in his article, until the medical school ranking system that is driving much of the supply-demand curve in US medical schools incorporates these qualities, we’ll continue breeding bookworms rather than health care leaders.

*This article was originally posted on KevinMD.

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