Premeds, don’t let them mislead you again.
It was once said that if we were 30 percent less intelligent, we would likely become happier. Sadly, awareness precedes intelligence. There is terrifyingly little strength involved in witnessing any tragedy that would either take a very long time to unsee or would stick with us to the grave. Around January, we heard the shot go around the world; 11 of “America’s most leading” medical schools announced their departure from USNWR’s rankings. And it seems more medical schools will join them, as Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine decided to leave a few days ago. Like most of you, we were initially elated that action has been taken against a flawed system, but we later returned to our instincts driven by skepticism. We came to multiple conclusions, and I’m personally tempted to even call out an unlikely conspiracy.
Maybe the USNWR is taking a hit, but a small one at best. The medical schools with the greatest amount of perceived prestige, brought up by famous leaders originating from a time when USWNR was unpopular, still represent a small number. As a reminder … there are still 154 medical schools in the United States, and a good majority of schools still have not stated their intentions with the rankings system. I can expect some of the remaining medical schools that consistently held the top 25 spots, such as New York University Grossman School of Medicineand University of San Francisco, to gun for the spots left behind. We have yet to hear from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine after their law school announced its departure. I suppose nothing will change at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine based on the outcome of its AOA Chapter alone. Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine may avoid experiencing incongruence while its affiliated hospital maintains the title of being the best in the country, and Baylor College of Medicine may take this chance to be ranked very highly once again, just like during the late 2000s. And for a school notably famous for its “Yale system,” why isn’t Yale School of Medicine saying anything?
Some could argue that the departure from the rankings lowers accountability, but we disagree to a certain extent. The schools who left right now clearly have a reputation, and they never depended on the USWNR in the first place. For those remaining, especially the ones within the top 40, there might be an incentive for them. Ultimately, the USNWR rankings serve as PR marketing, and there hasn’t been a faster method to promote the presence of a medical school besides relying on the rankings. Technology usually makes traditional processes easier to execute like online dating as an example. In this case, it takes far less time to Google-search the USWNR rankings to see the top 25 most popular medical schools and read Wikipedia pages of those institutions to somewhat be familiar to them, compared to the traditional “word-of-mouth” approach. Of course, there are consequences, just like in online dating. The residency program director score ratings (which were unusually revealed in Reddit forums) and ratings in Doximity for residencies tend to stem from the rankings. When program directors respond to surveys about residency programs, it’s usually based on a level of perception that isn’t objective. Feeling intimidated and inferior under extreme circumstances about institutions and their programs due to historic events that occurred during our parent’s youth is clearly not a valid approach to ranking them.
And that is why we feel optimistic about the abandoning of USWNR rankings. Maybe it’s time to finally look at current medical students (residents if they sadly graduated already) and sincerely guide them to be their best? Do we really need to continue promoting famous-but-dead physicians as marketable mascots to receive excessive funding for research? Should we not validate a trend between research spending and innovation that can be potentially similar to healthcare spending and patient outcomes?! Of course, there’s also the bad side. As noted before, we agree to an extent that the departure from the USWNR rankings could lead to lower accountability. In truth, the Medical Schools Admission Requirements always remain the best tool to gauge an applicant’s chances of admissions, and this year’s update is going to be very special. If medical schools no longer decide to keep their data of the 2018 entering class, or if it’s even possible to do such a thing, then admissions can certainly become unreasonably competitive. We just might expect the median GPA and MCAT to increase into 3.9 and 518, respectively, and most schools in Florida and Texas are already approaching the 3.86 mark. And when it is more likely to matriculate with below-average stats in 2018 compared to 2022, then certainly the interquartile ranges can get more narrow. That is what probably bothers many prospective applicants this year.
Medical school admissions can suddenly face less accountability in their decision-making, and it’s because they can. They definitely have more control in reporting their data to the MSAR, unlike with the USWNR, and many deans believe it is no longer worth reporting to them. You can’t prove you have a headache over something you can control instantly. Ultimately, we need to see how exactly this application cycle turns out. My bet is that the nontraditional students will be at a severe disadvantage, and it might get horrific between them and medical students serving as screeners. Since we have evolved to no longer discriminate based on race, let’s make an example of the outdated 24-29-year-old applicants with “damaged goods.” They clearly don’t belong in medical school, no matter what, right? To clarify, a nontraditional student is actually someone who is at least 30 years old and spends more than three years after graduating with a bachelor’s. They have authentic life experiences and didn’t just start medical school immediately after their master’s program, which they started immediately after undergrad. Even if the medical school rankings become obsolete, the undergraduate college’s rankings can still be difficult to abandon, and I find that the prestige of your undergrad often determines your specialty choice as well as the program site.
The USWNR took a hit only after several years of medical schools investing in its value. We can avoid the bad side and focus on medical students like any educational institution should. However, it will still take a long time to undo the questionable habit of prioritizing prestige over the quality of education and training. It’s not that medical students today don’t care about the rankings, but that they may no longer care about their school’s ranking after their third year. No medical student attending a reputable medical school isn’t going to convince us 21-year-olds that they genuinely want to practice primary care in a private clinic in a rural city. At least I keep track of what medical schools are walking the talk by Google-searching their commencement programs. No Reddit; just watching the action and culture of the medical schools as MS4s graduate through live streaming.
James Goldchild is a premedical intern.