The Best Medical School for You Depends on Many Factors

The MCAT scores just arrived in your inbox and now you know you qualify to apply for medical school because your undergrad grade point average is also excellent. Now, how do you pick the best medical school? Being a highly competitive professional option, the short answer: it depends on the specialty you choose. March 2019 saw the release of the annual US News medical school rankings. Entitled “Best Medical Schools 2020” the list was divided into two categories: primary care and research medical schools.

How US News arrived at their medical school rankings.

US News approached 152 schools of medicine (allopathic) with full accreditation by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education as of 2018. Further, US News requested data from the 33 osteopathic schools accredited in 2018 by the American Osteopathic Association. US News was provided the data necessary for their rankings from 120 of the medical schools contacted. Those responses were used to factor rankings in both areas: primary care and research. Rankings were released in March 2019 from data collected in Fall 2018 through the beginning of 2019.

The two categories included many of the same types of data. Different weight was placed on the various data based on the categories of research or primary care. While the same data was analyzed for both categories, due to the different weighting of the data, different schools ranked higher on different lists.

What survey data was reviewed?

Many types of data were provided to and evaluated by US News. You can read in depth information about how data were collected and reviewed at the full US News report. Let’s take a brief look at what data were used to rank each school for the different categories:

  • Quality Assessment- (based on peer and residency assessments) weighted .30 for the research schools and .40 for the primary care schools.
  • Research Activity- (only for research medical schools) weighted .40 based purely on National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding. Such funding is thought to be a credible measure.
  • Primary Care Rate- (only for primary care schools) weighted .30 based on average number of M.D. or D.O graduates choosing to enter the residency fields of: internal medicine, pediatrics or family practice.
  • Student Selectivity- weighted .20 for the research model and .15 for the primary care model. Data reviewed included: median MCAT scores, median undergrad GPAs and student acceptance rate (number of students applying vs. number of students accepted).
  • Faculty Resources- weighted .10 for research schools and .15 for primary care schools. Based on full-time faculty to full-time student ratio, schools were asked to present the same number they reported during their accreditation.

What percentage of schools ended up on the list?

US News decided to rank only the top 75% of the schools. Schools listed as “unranked” are done so because they did not provide enough information to compile the data necessary for a ranking. All unranked schools are alphabetically listed after the ranked schools. Also, this year, at the request of deans, other specialties received their own ranking list and include: anesthesiology, OBGYN, psychiatry, radiology and surgery. These special rankings were requested in an effort to better highlight the range of each school’s curriculum.

Primary care medical school rankings.

So, who made the Top Ten as the best primary care medical schools for 2020? It bears repeating that the US News medical school rankings are based on specialties and some results may be surprising. While the rankings for both lists will have schools in common, due to the weights placed on the data and the responses, the same schools may rank differently on each list. Here are the Top Ten among the primary care med school rankings:

  • University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. (1) In-state tuition is $30,437 and the faculty to student ratio averages at 2.1:1. Students attend to a traditional four-year medical curriculum.
  • University of Washington (Seattle). (2) In-state tuition for full-time is $36,549. The faculty to student ratio runs at 2.7:1. Students are divided up into one of six mentoring schools. Students have the opportunity to earn an M.D. or Ph.D. and approximately 10 students a year earn both.
  • University of California-San Francisco. (3) Full-time, in-state tuition runs $34,977. Faculty to student ratio sits at 4:1. The application deadline is October 15 the prior year, as with most medical schools.
  • Baylor College of Medicine (Houston). (4) Tuition per year is $29,900. With 2,447 full-time medical faculty, Baylor’s faculty to student ratio is 3.4:1. Application deadline for Baylor is November 1.
  • University of California-Los Angeles (Geffen). (5) The faculty to student ratio at the David Geffen School of Medicine is 3.8:1 and in-state tuition (full-time) averages $35,187 per year. There is an emphasis on life-long learning for all medical graduates.
  • Tied: Oregon Health and Science University (Portland) and University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. (6) With an emphasis on primary care, rural medicine and family medicine, the faculty to student ratio is 3.7:1. Full-time, in-state tuition averages $42,636 per year. Students at UoM-AA begin seeing actual patients within the first month of starting class. In-state tuition is $37,540 per year with a faculty to student ratio of 3.7:1.
  • University of Nebraska Medical Center (Omaha). (8) With 881 full-time teaching staff, the faculty to student ratio sits at 1.7:1. Tuition, in-state, is $33,500 per year.
  • University of California-Davis (Sacramento). (9) Students must complete seven medical competencies including system-based practice and patient care. In-state tuition averages, per year, $37,686. The student to faculty ratio is one student to every 1.9 professors.
  • University of Minnesota (Minneapolis). (10) Emphasizing the application of scientific theory in clinical practice, the faculty to student ratio averages 2:1. In-state tuition is an average of $38,628 per year.

Med school rankings for research medicine.

The highest ranked medical schools all have steep competition and even the highest GPA and MCAT scores won’t guarantee you a spot at your chosen school. Also, competition is great within medical specialties and research medicine is no different. If research medicine calls to your sense of service, then consider the following as a guide to the Top Ten research medical schools as ranked by US News:

  • Harvard University (Boston). (1) Established in 1782, Harvard Medical School continues to lead the field in medical innovation and is, arguably, the gold-standard in medical education and research. There are over 100,000 living alum, including two US Surgeon Generals. The course load is grueling with a faculty to student ratio of 13.1:1.
  • John Hopkins University (Baltimore). (2) With an emphasis on service, John Hopkins University pairs with John Hopkins Hospital to provide students with unique clinical experience from day one. Over 40 groups from JHU pair with community organizations for real-world application.
  • Tie: Stanford University and University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia). (3) Stanford has generous financial aid policies with per year tuition at $58,197. Teaching faculty to student ratio is 2.1:1. The University of Pennsylvania was home to the first medical school and teaching hospital in the US. Full-time tuitions average $57,884 per year with faculty to student ratios of 4.5:1.
  • University of California-San Francisco. (5) The application deadline for UC-SF is October 15 and full-time tuition runs about $34,977 per year. Average faculty to student ratio is 4:1.
  • Tie: Columbia University (NYC) and University of California-Los Angeles. (6) The College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University has an average yearly tuition of $61,100. Having over 2000 full-time teaching faculty, the average faculty to student ratio is 3.4:1. Again, encouraging lifelong learning, the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA has a faculty to student ratio of 3.8:1.
  • Washington University at St. Louis (Missouri). (8) Having a highly customized learning experience, WU encourages first year students to take electives and begin research projects. Field experience is widely available throughout the community. Tuition averages at just over $65,000 per year and students can expect a faculty to student ratio around 4.4:1.
  • Cornell University (NYC). (9) Having over 1,700 full-time faculty the ratio to students is around 4.2:1 at the Weill Cornell Medical School. Tuition averages $57,050 per year.
  • Mayo Clinic School of Medicine (Rochester, Minnesota). (10) Encouraged to pursue personal interests, first and second year students can take selective courses. During the third year, students are required to write a research-based scientific paper of which about 80% are usually published. The faculty to student ratio is around 2.7:1 and tuition is about $55,500 per year.

What about top schools in other medical disciplines?

The majority of the US News rankings was focused on primary care and research medicine. There were other fields of study ranked and here are a few that might be of interest (only the top schools are listed):

  • Anesthesiology; Internal Medicine–John Hopkins University
  • Family Medicine–Oregon Health and Science University
  • OB-GYN; Psychiatry; Radiology–Harvard University
  • Pediatrics–University of Pennsylvania

What else should be considered when applying to medical school?

Practicing physicians all went to and completed pre-med, internships and residencies. They all followed a certain pull that helped to keep them motivated through the long-hours of study and on-call shifts. Applying to medical school is costly. Just submitting the needed paperwork and application fees can run into the hundreds of dollars. Applications can take over a year and most med students applied to between 20 and 40 schools. If you are certain you want to pursue medicine be prepared to consider the following:

  • Finances for the application process. Applications have fees attached. If you are selected to interview, transportation, room and board is on you.
  • Undergrad GPA and MCAT scores. This is where that GPA from freshman year rears its head. If your MCAT is not what you hoped for, consider delaying the application. The good news is the weaknesses have been revealed and you can study and retake it. If your GPA needs work, think about a master’s program prior to med school.
  • Extracurricular experience in fields of specialty do matter. If research is the interest, what projects did you participate in that indicates research experience? The same applies to primary care medicine. If you want to be a family medicine practitioner, then think about shadowing a family clinic doctor or intern at a community health center. Most medical schools look for well-rounded candidates who seem sure about their decision.
  • Are you ready for the work and lifestyle? This might be the most important aspect of applying to medical school. The coursework is above challenging. The hours are long and unrelenting. You will be in class with the best of the best. Are you as sure as you can be that this is the profession that you want? If the answers to all this are yes, then apply.

The good news-you’re in!

Your hard work has paid off and you are in the medical school of your dreams. Now comes the fun part, really focusing on the field you want to pursue within medicine. With so many options, internship choices can be a little overwhelming. However, there is a program that can help you navigate this road so that you can focus on gaining the best real-life experience. International Medical Aid pairs interns with programs around the world focused on social responsibility and once-in-a-lifetime learning experiences. It is never too early to start thinking about the next step on your path to medical success.