The medical school interview season has just concluded. Each year, approximately 45,000 students vie for approximately 20,000 first-year positions at U.S. M.D.-granting medical schools. Most of these students will not have gained admission, and if they wish to become physicians they will need to seek medical education outside the U.S., pursue an alternate degree such as a D.O. (doctor of osteopathy), or improve their grade point averages and test scores and apply again next year. At the other end of the spectrum, many fortunate students face the task of choosing between multiple schools.
With only 20,000 new M.D.'s emerging each year to help care for a nation of over 310 million people, these are momentous choices. Every graduate counts, and where students go to school can powerfully shape the kinds of physicians they become. What factors should count the most in choosing a medical school?
One important factor is clearly reputation, often expressed in the form of rankings. A number of publications and websites purport to rank the 140 U.S. M.D.-granting schools on factors such as research funding, publications by faculty, selectivity in admissions, the average grade point averages and test scores of accepted students, and a difficult-to-quantify prestige factor associated with the school itself or the larger university of which it is a part. While it is fashionable to downplay such rankings, many schools, particularly those that are highly ranked or moving up, tend to trumpet them loudly.