One of the big questions potential med students ask is the importance of the med schools they apply to. Because training to be a doctor is both expensive and long, thinking about how employers might see your degree can be a good move.
So, does where you go for medical school actually matter?
In terms of employment prospects, it doesn’t matter what medical school you go to. Sure, with a top-tier med school on your CV you might “appear” a more attractive candidate, but there are more factors that go into securing a top job or residency. Where your med school matters most is in what it can offer you personally.
If that summary sounds overly simplistic, don’t worry. I’ll dive into the exact reasons why where you go to med school doesn’t matter. And, of course, the times it might!
Here’s what else we’ll cover:
- If med school rankings matter
- How med school prestige can impact you
- Why your med school can matter when it comes to residency
- What hospitals/employers actually want from you (hint; it’s not your med school’s name)
As a med student myself (and a career changer), these are questions I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and researching.
Ready to learn more? Let’s get started.
Why where you go to med school matters
Although I mentioned before that it doesn’t matter where you go to medical school in terms of landing a job, this is only half true. It’s common knowledge that there are more medical school places than there are total residency spots.
The number of residencies available for medical school graduates has not increased at the same rate as the increase in students in the United States.(Source)
What this could mean then, even though it’s complicated, is that when compared to another graduate, where you went to med school could become a differentiator.
Especially if you’re equal on the grounds of all other factors (more on this later).
Where this may also ring true however is in the following assumptions:
- If you go to a “better” medical school you’ll get a “better education”
- Better education equals better exam scores, GPAs, training opportunities, etc.
- The best residency programs want the best candidates
Of course, to deny any of this would be plainly untrue. Going to a top-tier medical school is certainly going to open more doors (and possibly better opportunities) than a second-rate one.
But not in 100% of cases. Because there are all types of complicated factors at play, like…
- Hospitals affiliated with medical schools preferentially selecting their own graduates (to boost their own “match rate”).
- Changes to licensing exams (USMLE Step 1 going pass/fail etc.)
- Board scores being the biggest selection factor for jobs/residency positions (of which any student, anywhere, is capable of scoring high).
- Exemplary students at “lower-tier” schools excelling in continued extracurriculars like research.
- 3rd or 4th-year students completing elective clinical clerkships somewhere else “prestigious” or reputable.
So to say that a better med school will make you a better graduate, is not a definitive statement!
What does your medical school offer you?
If the explanation above ends rather inconclusively, here’s one point that’s hard to disagree with.
Where you go to medical school really matters in terms of who you are.
And also because you have criteria, like the following:
- Not wanting to be too far from friends and family
- Wanting a particular climate or environment to study in
- Needing to spend a certain amount of money
- Wanting particular opportunities (i.e. particular electives)
- Having a good idea of where you want to specialize in medicine
So when it comes to personal preference (and the types of things you want from your educational experience), where you go to medical school can be super important!
More reasons why where you go could matter
The following are a couple more random reasons why where you go to med school could matter. I’ll let you make your own minds up as to how important (or not) you feel they are!
- Networking: Where you went to med school could become a point of conversation on the wards (did you know so-and-so etc.)
- Ego: Because you want a certain “brand” name school on your CV or resume
- Ambition: Some people are fine with just being another run-of-the-mill clinician (no shame in that)
Why where you go to med school DOESN’T matter
If you go to an accredited medical school in mainland U.S., it most likely doesn’t matter where you go med school. Your chances of matching into residency (and a job) are close to certain. Not counting your dream or desired residency of course.
As for that last bit, I’d argue it doesn’t matter either. You still have chances at elective rotations, or regional-specific residency, or job programs (the types that favor you over someone outside the state).
But here’s why else it (probably) doesn’t matter:
- You have a certain amount of control and direction over your studies (making it entirely possible to score higher than others in exams)
- Students from supposed “low-tier” schools match into competitive residency places all the time
For that last point you can check out the National Resident Matching Program (NMRP’s) data if you don’t believe me!
But if you’re studying outside the U.S., that first point is probably most important.
So, to simplify and generalize for a broader audience…
It doesn’t matter where you go to medical school if you work actively to become an exceptional candidate for your first junior job.
More reasons why where you go DOESN’T matter
And just like the other half of the conversation, here’s a bunch more random reasons why it doesn’t matter…
- Because there are a ton of other opportunities to make you an awesome candidate for residency/jobs
- Like research, community projects etc.
- Because parts of your personal history can matter more than your school’s name or reputation
- E.G. being a mature student or career changer
- Because very few colleagues will ever care where you went to med school once you’re working
- Because no patient will ever care (they’ll just want you to help them)
What about rankings?
Med school rankings are often used as a measuring stick for how important a school is.
It’s also usually the one thing pre-meds and 4th year medics get the most hung up on!
But as the video below suggests, there’s a lot of misinformation and assumption that goes into rankings. Not including the organizations (and the criteria they use) to the rank med schools in the first place…
So if you’re paying attention to rankings, consider what it is exactly that the ranking is based on.
Is it all about research? Or is it about residency programs?
And then ask yourself, hopefully after reviewing the discussion above, how important each of these things is to you personally.
Does the medical school you attend matter for residency?
If the biggest reason medical school could matter to you revolves around residency, then understand that it’s a sensible one.
According to the programs surveyed by the National Resident Matching Program (NMRP), 50% said that being a graduate of a highly-regarded U.S. medical school was a citing factor in decided to interview a candidate (Source).
With those odds being what they are, and your choice of residency being of critical importance to you, it would make sense to pick a medical school that provides the best chance of meeting that goal.
To understand which ones do, I’d advise spending time pouring over the match rate data for your preferred residency program and see what school’s names keep coming up.
How important is med school prestige?
Again, it’s something of a complicated question. “Prestige” is only as important as you make it to be, based on your personal goals.
The important thing is that you get an honest answer to the question as there’s a lot of bias (something I’m aware of trying to handle in this article) at play.
My recommendation is that you ask real-life physicians in residency positions what their opinions are and get a mix of responses.
Specifically, target those in specialties or areas of work that you see yourself attracted to and try to work out how prestige may have factored into them getting to where they are.
But, let’s be honest, prestige can definitely be important. Especially when it comes to putting things like letters of recommendation (LOR’s) together.
What do hospitals look for when recruiting people out of medical school?
The whole match process (what American medical graduates go through on the way to their first physician job) is beyond the scope of this article.
Test scores and medical school names aside, there is probably still a consistent list of things most hospitals (or recruiters) want to see from candidates looking to find their first jobs in medicine.
Here’s what I feel some of the most important are:
- Being open and honest about your background, aims and objectives.
- Concern and empathy:
- Being able to demonstrate you care about patients and their outcomes.
- Attention to detail/organization:
- Being punctual at interviews and being precise in your answers and assessments.
- The ability to clearly instruct and explain to others the needs of the role and the task.
Note how none of these qualities has anything to do with where you go to medical school.
These can all be individually developed and mastered!
Thinking about how much the med school you go to matters isn’t an easy process. There’s a lot of individual and personal thought that has to go into answering the question.
What I’ve hoped to highlight here are some of the most common arguments to consider.
Although I personally feel it doesn’t really matter that much (and I may be biased due to my history), I do appreciate they’ll be many people out there who feel the opposite.
But I’ll always continue to be an optimist, fighter, and a believer in the idea that we all control our own fate. If we persist enough we can overcome any setback or shortcoming that’s in front of us.
Less-than-desirable name of a med school on our CV? Better than none!
If you enjoyed this article, you might find the following a good read:
Do employers prefer Ivy League or Oxbridge-educated medical graduates?
Having an top-tier school on your resume can definitely look impressive to potential employers. But it’s no guarantee of a job. You’ll still have to obtain licensing and develop yourself outside of simply the name of the school on your resume.
Employers want to see rounded characters. Not institutionalized products.
Does it matter what medical school you go to in the UK?
The UK has a different system to America’s match program where medical graduates go on to become foundation year doctors (F1 and F2) after recieving provisional registration. Students apply for this in their last year of study and rank training posts during their application according to preference.
The score candidates recieve in the Educational Performance Measure and the Situational Judgement Test help decide the foundation school they are allocated.
On a surface level, the same arguments about what medical school you go to in the US, apply to the UK.
Top-tier schools may help students better prepare for these tests, but there’s no correlation according to the data (Source).
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in digital marketing and journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.