Congratulations are currently in order because, you did it! You have proved to yourself time and time again, that all your hopes, dreams and aspirations revolve around becoming a physician. You’ve compiled your personal “why do I want to be a doctor?” list, you’ve curated your premed courses and have been raking in one exceptional mark after the other in your classes, you’ve been putting in your time learning about the profession of medicine, shadowing medical practitioners, and filling your days with infinite health-centered volunteer opportunities. Some of you here have come as far as already having written the MCAT! I’m happy you found us, because I know how you’re feeling right now. Us type-A personalities are always looking at our lives through the lens of the future when it comes to today’s decisions, in tandem with their consequences and repercussions. That pit in your stomach seems to be growing bigger and bigger by the day, as you try to navigate the inter-webs, attempting to read through a plethora of medical school ranking lists in hopes of finding the holy grail of answers relating to what medical school you should apply to, and how this very decision will inevitably impact the rest of your life/medical career! PHEW! That truly was a very loaded and heavy realization, wasn’t it? I KNOW how you’re feeling, because I was right where you were. I just wish there was a corner of the internet that existed when I was looking for such answers, instead of always leaving my searches feeling inundated. Here’s hoping that we at BeMo can serve as the vehicle in overturning that deficit for you wonderful aspiring future physicians of tomorrow, by virtually holding your hand, cheering for you on the sidelines and guiding you through this rather tumultuous journey! Let’s aim to feel less burdened and bogged down leaving here today, than you initially started! Who’s with me?
Still here? Well, let’s get to it! Something I wish my wiser and more experienced self today could have asked my younger-naïve self, years ago upon starting this journey is the burning question—does the medical school you attend truly matter when it comes to securing your residency placement for post-graduation, and ultimately set the precedence for the rest of your medical-career and life? In short; does a medical school ranking list truly matter? Let us slowly lead up to the answer, shall we? First and foremost, what can we all agree on that truly DOES matter?
BEFORE looking at a medical school ranking list, bear with me as I suggest the following route;
Your Medical School Shortlist Blueprint:
Can I get a drumroll, please…BEHOLD, the Medical School SHORTLIST BLUEPRINT, written by non-other than, YOU!!
I know, you’re getting pangs of nervousness again, but hear me out! This blueprint will be the best way you can equip yourself in making well-informed decisions as we move forward in answering the above question!
It’s no secret that embarking on the journey of attaining a medical degree costs an arm and a leg, regardless of what school you decide to go to. One of the first things you should consider, without allowing it to be a limiting factor is, how much debt are you willing to carry with you as you complete medical school and head into your residency? Let this not deter you because there are always scholarships or loans that are made accessible to you upon admission to help with your schooling expenses! Medical School Admissions authorities do shed light on the fact that that state medical schools are much cheaper than private medical schools, so that is always something you should consider when compiling your list of schools to apply to! Higher costs for a medical education does NOT mean you are being groomed to be a better physician!
2) How competitive are YOU?
So, you have an idea of what your GPA will look like upon applying, and you have your MCAT score under your belt! Awesome! How do you compare to everyone else that will be applying with you? Put your research hat on, and start looking into each school that piques your interest, and compare your stats to the data they’ve collected on their student body; make a list of schools that your performance parallels the most! As you compile this list, include “safe schools,” those of which reflect your range of GPA and MCAT scores the best, “back-up schools,” where your scores are much higher than the average of their student body, along with “reach schools,” those of which present with student data that reflects scores higher than yours. Remember, a medical school application is more than just your grades—don’t be discouraged from applying to those reach schools, especially if you feel confident that you have an exceptional application! A GREAT resource to see a compilation of all the accredited medical schools in the States by clicking here. Accessing this list can broaden your options in considering schools you may not have been aware of, allowing you to further research each school on their respective websites. Keep this resource as a part of your arsenal as you continue to curate your list.
3) What makes you thrive in the classroom?
Don’t take those research hats off just yet! You now have something on paper in terms of safety, backup, and reach schools! It’s time to get to know some of these schools from a curriculum point of view! What academic institutions have a curriculum that best appeals to your learning style? Think back to your undergraduate premed classes; are you a student who thrives best in a lecture-based environment, or do you learn best when being hands-on, or while working together with other colleagues in group settings? Remember, if your learning-style is nurtured on a daily basis, you will be set up to be the most successful version of yourself!
4) Your nose can’t be in a book ALL the time; what extracurricular opportunities are available?
Remember, it’s not enough to be brilliant, academically! What makes you a well-rounded human? Having the ability to seek happiness, joy, and nurture your health and wellness through various extracurriculars, ofcourse! What are you most interested in continuing, or pursuing, during your medical studies? Sports/recreational activities? Starting your own club? Are you interested in having a research mentor so you can pursue research? Do you want to volunteer abroad in marginalized communities and be exposed to memorable experiences that are not taught in the classroom? Go ahead, explore what each school has to offer and listen to your gut—what gets you excited to apply to this particular school and its ability to allow you to grow as an individual?
5) What is each school’s focus?
That list is looking awesome, wouldn’t you say? You’re doing a great job at whittling it down to best suit YOU! Our admissions experts recommend that generally, you should not apply to less than 10 schools, or more than 20 schools! A happy median of 13-15 schools will allow you to conserve your time, energy, money, and creative juices in producing quality applications! It’s no easy task, so take a moment to give yourself a pat on the back! Let’s take a look at these schools that you want to apply to! Each medical school has a different set up when orienting their focus on healthcare. This is when you have to think critically on what type of practice you would like to pursue as a physician, and what school can help you attain these goals once you’ve entered residency—it’s a tough question, and something that may change a couple of years down the road, especially with your exposure to a vast number or specialties and practices, but it’s a great thing to think about now! There are a number of schools that are heavily research focused, while other schools are primary care-oriented. Do you already have an idea of what field you would like to embark upon, post-medical school? Do these schools have strong programs and affiliations with hospitals that have an evident focus on these areas that pique your interest, and may strongly support and nurture your career goals?
• It is at THIS point that you may feel that a Medical School Rankings list could come into play in aiding you to polish up your already STRONG list that you’ve created! See, I told you we would get there! Let’s take this one step at a time, however!
Medical School Rankings Lists
Let’s start off by clearing up all of the white noise surrounding medical school rankings lists;
1) Medical School Ranking List—what is it? According to US News, these rankings are ONE indicator of an institution’s PERCEIVED quality. Just ONE, and the importance of these rankings are quite subjective!
2) Our trusty cyberspace is over-populated with numerous ranking lists, all claiming that they are credible sources, basing their ranking on the most up-to-date, relevant, and succinct data, algorithms, and analysis protocols and methods. Before scouring these lists, let us get one thing clear; any authority on the internet can come up with a ranking list (there are a number of them that look credible, but are SOLELY based on readership VOTES i.e. “what school has the best basketball team/games to watch”!) so if we do venture out and take a look at them, lets ensure they are coming from a credible source, that clearly outline their data collection, methods, and analysis in computing results! Some nationally and internationally recognized organizations include:
- US News & World Report
- World University Rankings created by Times Higher Education
3) Another thing to keep in mind before placing too much weight on ranking lists is that although all schools (greater than 150) are asked by these authorities to participate in submitting their data, not all end up doing so! Skewed results from the get-go!
4) All admissions authorities can agree on one thing; your performance during medical school and your USMLE scores completely trump what institution you graduated from when fighting to land that coveted residency spot! Another crucial suggestion is to look at each school’s residency placement rates before including a school in your list. Many medical schools that are surveyed when constructing a ranking list don’t provide this data, so make sure to research the schools that have piqued your interest up until this point, and evaluate the statistics regarding which school’s graduates matched to their first choice/top three residency programs! Point number one; which list just proved to be more important, YOUR list, or the annually changing ranking list? I rest my case!
How Ranking Lists apply to you:
Remember that section on your blueprint, where you were asked what your career goals and objectives were? It is at THIS point that a ranking list MAY prove to serve as a GUIDE in helping you with polishing up your list further! It’s all about strategically planning and applying! Let me explain;
Here's what ranking lists are based on:
1. Top medical schools for research
- Are your objectives in line with becoming a physician/scientist, an M.D.—PhD (those interested in running their own research labs, working on disease cures and treatments, or even teaching, in conjunction with patient care) or even an MD-MBA (those interested in hospital management and administration, in addition to patient care)? You may want to turn to a ranking list based on the strength of a school’s research merit in providing their students with the resources, publication power, and providing a plethora of opportunities to position you down a track of attaining endless success and experiences.
- Are your objectives in line with becoming a clinician? Medical School Rankings should take a back seat to the importance of the location of the school and if it is in a place, geographically that you are comfortable with, in tandem with your MCAT and GPA scores, and the overall learning style, curriculum, and academic/extra-curricular environment that parallels what aligns with you the most!
2. Top medical schools for primary care
- When it comes to core specialties (family medicine, psychiatry internal medicine, obstetrics, gynecology), your USMLE scores trump and outweigh a medical school’s ranking on some list.
- When it comes to highly competitive sub-specialties, surgical specialties, dermatology, etc, the AAMC’s data related to charting outcomes of incoming residents does suggest that incoming graduates from a top 40 ranked research medical school may be competitively advantageous in securing a residency spot
3. Top medical schools where the past year’s graduates were most likely to match to their first-choice of residency program.
- We have already determined this to be beneficial!
Food for Thought:
Let me ask you a question; try to think back to the time your thoughts weren’t consumed by what medical school you should envision as your new home; did you really know where your family doctor, your specialist, or your loved ones’ physicians went to medical school? I’ll even venture as far as to guess that you may not even have a clue as to the school their residency program was associated with! At the end of the day, you don’t become a physician in medical school, even when you walk across that stage and attain that pretty piece of paper awarding you with your new credentials, you become a doctor during your residency. Do you know what makes you a successful and highly coveted, and respected physician? Your innate ability to care and advocate for your patients, and your medical competency as a practitioner—NOT where you were awarded your medical degree.
PHEW! You deserve a round of applause for the work that you just put into constructing that liquid gold of a blueprint as you embark on this next step of your journey! Selecting a medical school where you will be spending the next 4 (plus) years of your life is no easy task, and not for the faint of heart. I think we are now all healthily on the same page in terms of how much we should weigh the “importance” (read: unimportant) of a medical school ranking list when selecting what medical schools we should proceed in applying to, and recognize it as more of a tool to help us gain some insight into what programs are out there, and how they may foster our growth and nurture our capacity to be the greatest versions of ourselves. More important than medical school ranking lists are our individual personal factors as you’ve outlined in your blueprint. It is all about choosing the program that best aligns with all your hopes, dreams, aspirations, wellbeing, and overall happiness, and how said program will position you on a trajectory where you can attain infinitely gratifying and monumental success!
About the author:
Dr. Karim Wafa is a resident in anesthesiology and an Academic Consultant at BeMo.
To your success,
Your friends at BeMo