The School of Medicine has drifted down the U.S. News and World Report’s rankings for best research medical schools in the last five years, falling from five to 11 in that span, partially due to slow growth in funding and number of faculty compared to other schools, Medical School Dean Robert Alpern said.
Though the medical school did not rank in the top 50 for primary care this year, Alpern said the school does not have or plan to create a department of primary care.
“Many medical schools have it as their mission to turn out primary care physicians,” he said. “Our mission is to turn out leaders.”
Alpern said students are taught primary care through the department of internal medicine.
He said the school expects to climb the national rankings for research over the coming years, after recruiting more faculty and constructing new facilities — goals high on Alpern’s agenda as a relatively new dean.
But the medical school’s future plans are not in response to its declining status on the U.S. News’s report, he said.
“We pay attention to the rankings because students read them, but otherwise we put don’t put much faith in them,” Alpern said.
Samuel Flanigan, deputy director for the U.S. News and World Report’s graduate school rankings data research, said the medical school rankings are based partly on survey responses from residency and admissions directors and deans at more than 140 schools.
His team takes care to make sure its survey samples are spread out geographically and are statistically accurate, but the rankings are just one tool students should use when deciding where to apply, he said.
“Aside from the rankings, we also offer a large body of data on individual schools, so students can make other decisions,” Flanigan said.
The U.S. News Web site allows applicants to purchase a complete report that includes a feature for directly comparing medical schools.
Though Harvard Medical School ranked first and 11th in research and primary care, respectively, its associate dean for public affairs, Don Gibbons, said the U.S. News rankings are unreliable.
“While we are proud of our rankings, the U.S. News survey is an imprecise instrument, and we do not believe it should be used by students in deciding where to attend medical school,” he said.
The Stanford University School of Medicine, which ranked eighth in research, did not rank in the top 50 for primary care.
Dr. Philip Pizzo, dean of Stanford’s medical school, said while the school values training physicians for primary care, it does not view primary care as its main mission, and did not ask to be evaluated for primary care on the survey.
“Because Stanford is a small school of medicine, we have had to make choices about how our resources and expertise are best utilized,” he said. “Accordingly, we view Stanford as a research-intensive school of medicine and have organized our programs and goals around that focus.”
He said there are not enough faculty at Stanford to focus on both research and primary care.
Columbia University Associate Dean for Graduate Affairs Richard Kessin ’66 criticized the U.S. News rankings for underestimating the quality of Yale and Columbia’s medical schools.
“Both institutions are very complex,” he said. “If by bad luck I found myself in Columbia’s ER or in Yale’s, I would count myself fortunate. I believe that mass surveys, such as the one offered every year by U.S. News, are intrinsically flawed.”
Columbia ranked 10th in research and was not in the top 50 for primary care.
Yale statistics professor David Pollard said surveys like those used in the U.S. News and World Report’s rankings are generally not as rigorous as controlled scientific experiments.
“I usually don’t put much faith in rankings like those in this report,” he said.
The U.S. News and World Report’s research rankings for medical schools are based on peer assessments, average undergraduate GPAs, average MCAT scores, acceptance rates, total dollar amounts of research grants, faculty-to-student ratios, tuition fees and total enrollment. Rankings for primary care also include selectivity and the percentage of students entering primary care.