A reader posted the following comment on another article:
Hi, I was just wondering how large a factor what medical school plays into getting a residency and job where you want. I realize getting into Harvard Med is a bigger deal than say Oakland University. But when you say apply to as many school as possible, is it simply the money issue that would prevent you from doing that, or is getting into a below average medical school that bad of a thing.
I’ll summarize it by saying, “Is there a best medical school?”
The U.S. News & World Report rankings would have you think that there is a vast difference in the quality of medical schools here in the United States. Pre-meds, parents, and the media play into this frenzy of believing that certain schools are vastly superior to others. I’ve written in an earlier post on my feelings about the ranking methodology. Instead, I will use today to discuss whether or not there is any validity to these rankings.
First, consider performance on the licensing exams. All universities, on average, have a 95% pass rate for their students. That also means that there is, on average, a 5% failure rate. Both Harvard and Drexel each have students perform at the top of the bell curve as well as those who fail outright. While there are differences in the average score, your performance on the test is based solely upon your own preparation, and not any magical instruction given by the school.
Here are the match lists for Johns Hopkins University (currently ranked #2), Brown University (currently ranked #31), and Albert Einstein College of Medicine (not ranked). You will notice that people from all three universities have matched in noncompetitive specialties such as pediatrics as well as competitive specialties such as ophthalmology.
I also found a list of people who have matched into plastic surgery in 2007 and neurosurgery in 2008. Take a moment to go through the names of all of the schools. You’ll notice a variety of universities are listed, including rank and unranked programs.
That’s not to say that where you go to medical school is completely meaningless. Residency program directors certainly take it into consideration. For example, if a senior resident from State University is doing well at a particular residency, the program director is likely to look favorably upon medical students applying from that university. The converse is true. If a resident who is an alum of your university is performing poorly, the program director might unconsciously think that you will struggle as well.
Some research has been performed on the subject as to what program directors are looking for. Several years ago the journal Academic Emergency Medicine published an article ranking the most important factors of an application. They are:
1. Emergency medicine rotation grades
3. Clinical grades
6. Grades (overall)
7. Elective at the program director’s institution
8. Board scores (overall)
9. USMLE step II
10. Interest expressed
11. USMLE step I
13. AOA status
14. Medical school attended
15. Extracurricular activities
16. Basic science grades
18. Personal statement
You will notice that “medical school attended” falls behind “other” and “interest expressed.” So maybe it does play a role after all.