Does Medical School Ranking Really Matter? (The Answer Is Not What You Think)

Our culture is obsessed with rankings especially when it comes to schools. You remember what it was like with undergrad. The top-tier IV league schools offered opportunities that nobody else could. Or so you thought. But what about medical schools? Does med school ranking matter?

Medical school is unique. Yes, there are rankings for medical school, but you never hear about specific hospitals that only hire doctors that attended Harvard. 

Law, engineering, and business, on the other hand, are fields where the school ranking matters a lot. Opportunities come up just because you go to a highly ranked school. 

Let’s dissect medical school rankings and discuss exactly what kind of opportunities arise, if any, from attending a highly ranked medical school.

How Are Medical Schools Ranked?

The most popular medical school ranking publication comes from the U.S. News report. This report offers two kinds of rankings: Best medical school by research and best medical school by primary care. We will focus on the best medical school by research because that’s what most people think of when they think of the highest-ranked medical schools. 

The U.S. News reports uses the following indicators to rank schools. 

  • Quality assessment: This includes a 1-5 rating score from a peer assessment and assessment by residency directors.
  • Student Selectivity: How selective the medical schools are with their undergraduates. They measure median MCAT, median undergrad GPA, and acceptance rate.
  • Faculty Resources: This is based on the ratio of faculty to students. 
  • Research Activity: They take 2 measurements for this category. First is the “Total federal research activity” which includes the total dollar amount of federal grants and contracts. Second is the “Average federal research activity per faculty member” which is the total dollar amount of federal grants and contracts per total full-time faculty member.

Are Medical School Rankings Important For Career Opportunities?

medical school rankings

First and foremost, let’s discuss career opportunities. Are medical school rankings important for finding a job as a physician or having the opportunity to obtain a higher-paying position?

The answer is no.

In the United States, the reality is we have a shortage of physicians and this shortage is only going to get worse.

Getting into a professional field like law, on the other hand, is a different story. There are plenty of lawyers out there looking for work and it is a well known fact that top tier firms strongly favor candidates who went to the prestigious schools. 

Does The Medical School You Went To Matter For Residency?

surgery residency

It’s a well-known fact that not all residency programs are created equal. Some programs produce better physicians than others. And let’s not forget that some specialties are much more competitive to get into than others. 

Does going to a higher ranked medical school help your chances of getting into a competitive residency program?

The National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) did a study on what factors into the director’s decision to interview candidates. What they found is that 53% of directors said that “Graduate of highly regarded U.S. medical school” factored into their decision.

This seems like a pretty high number, however, that same study also placed 22 other deciding factors at higher percentage numbers. This means there are lots of other more important factors unrelated to the medical school you went to that will dictate what residency programs will interview you.

Does Med School Ranking Matter For Neurosurgery?

Becoming a neurosurgeon is possibly the most competitive specialty in medicine. If you believe this is your long-term goal, you are probably wondering if med school ranking matters for landing this kind of residency. 

Going back to the NRMP survey, across the board we know that 53% of directors factor graduating from a highly regarded medical school into their decision to interview. However, that includes every specialty. This study also analyzes the decision process for each specialty separately.

For neurosurgery, the NRMP study states that 73% of directors factor in high-ranking medical schools. 

Among other highly competitive residency programs, we see a similar trend of directors caring about the rank of your medical school. 

If your goal is to be a neurosurgeon and you have the opportunity to go to a highly ranked medical school, you may want to consider it. The NRMP study makes it clear that the more competitive the residency program the more medical school prestige matters. 

However, this does not mean that you can’t become a neurosurgeon if you don’t attend one of these highly ranked schools! Again, there are many other factors that go into the candidate selection process. Plenty of students from all kinds of MD and DO medical schools get into neurosurgery residency programs!

Grades Matter In Medical School

So your medical school ranking matters to a certain degree when getting matched into a residency program. But let’s not forget about the correlation with grades.

Getting into a highly ranked medical school requires exceptional grades and MCAT scores. These are the kinds of students who will also excel in medical school. Therefore, students attending a highly ranked medical school will also have exceptional grades and USMLE scores.

You can see how the greater regard for graduates from a highly regarded medical school is partly because of the students those schools attract. 

No matter which medical school you attend, be like the graduates from highly regarded medical schools. Study hard, get amazing grades, and rock the USMLE. 

Does It Matter Which Medical School You Attend?

Ranking aside, does it matter in general which medical school you attend? Well, as I briefly touched on in my post on how many medical schools you should apply to, it actually does matter which medical school you attend depending on your desires. 

For example, if you want to practice rural medicine, you would want to attend a medical school that serves rural communities instead of urban areas. 

What if you want to be a physician-scientist and do research? Medical school rankings are highly dependent on the amount of research done at the institution. If you want to be highly involved in research in the future, it would be beneficial to be in a ranked medical school. 

Other factors you should consider are the school’s location, how many pre-clinical years they do, their partner hospitals, and the required vs. elective third-year rotations. 

The fit of the medical school for your personal situation matters. Not only can it benefit you in the long run career-wise, but you are more likely to do well in your medical school interview after applying.

Conclusion: How Much Does Med School Ranking Really Matter?

Medical school rankings really aren’t that important. In fact, I would argue that you shouldn’t even pay attention to them. 

No matter where you go to medical school, the most important thing to do is study hard, do extracurriculars, and make sure you stand out. 

If you do this, great residency programs will recognize you.

At the end of the day, the quality of training you receive after medical school is what is important. Ask any doctor and they will tell you where you went to medical school doesn’t matter at all. They only care about where you went to residency. 

Your patients won’t even know what medical school you went to. All they care about is how good you are at your job and your bedside manner.

So do yourself a favor, just focus on getting in and being the best medical student in your school. That will open up doors to more opportunities whether you attended a highly ranked medical school or not. 

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