For many aspiring physicians, doing some form of academic or scientific research is one way of making a med school application competitive. But what about so-called “research-heavy” med schools? How do they work?
What is a “research-heavy” med school?
A research-heavy med school is one that is considered to strongly favor pre-med applicants with impressive research credentials or hours. Students with publications, or those making strong contributions to such projects, are said to be good fits for these types of schools.
But just because you don’t fit the criteria, does that mean you shouldn’t bother applying?
That’s what this article hopes to find out!
Here’s what else we’ll cover:
- How to identify a research-heavy med school
- Who should best target them (and who shouldn’t)
- Why they care about research
As a med student myself, and one who’s interested in doing research throughout my future medical career, I can appreciate how useful some of the answers to these questions might be.
Ready to jump in? Let’s go.
How to identify a research-heavy med school
Although it’s impossible to know the degree to which a certain med school is research-heavy, it is possible to get a rough idea.
The first place to look is at the most recent list of National Insitute of Health (NIH) funded institutions. This details several medical schools that take funding for extramural research in the form of grants.
2020’s list (Source) features the following institutions in the top 50.
Here they are in descending order (medical schools are bolded):
|Rank||Organization Name||Funding & Awards|
|50||Dana-Farber Cancer Institute||$168,968,587 through 265 awards|
|49||The Scripps Research Institute||$170,903,082 through 241 awards|
|48||The University of Iowa||$175,249,359 through 399 awards|
|47||Sloan-Kettering Institute||$176,889,703 through 291 awards|
|46||Case Western Reserve University||$177,488,241 through 346 awards|
|45||Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard||$181,853,504 through 93 awards|
|44||University of Florida||$182,500,010 through 443 awards|
|43||Albert Einstein College of Medicine||$185,644,333 through 335 awards|
|42||Boston Children’s Hospital||$192,682,552 through 366 awards|
|41||FHI 360 (formerly Family Health International)||$192,932,746 through 6 awards|
|40||The University of Maryland, Baltimore||$200,332,911 through 409 awards|
|39||The University of Utah||$204,180,928 through 509 awards|
|38||The University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center||$206,405,214 through 471 awards|
|37||Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI)||$214,313,650 through 406 awards|
|36||The Ohio State University||$214,958,510 through 491 awards|
|35||Weill Cornell Medical College||$217,849,516 through 446 awards|
|34||The University of Chicago||$220,691,792 through 426 awards|
|33||University of California, Davis||$237,849,512 through 484 awards|
|32||Mayo Clinic (Rochester, MN)||$261,314,178 through 379 awards|
|31||University of Colorado Denver||$267,091,236 through 692 awards|
|30||University of Massachusetts (UMass) Medical School||$275,202,636 through 318 awards|
|29||University of Southern California||$282,423,540 through 473 awards|
|28||Oregon Health & Science University||$282,673,537 through 513 awards|
|27||The University of Alabama at Birmingham||$291,827,756 through 582 awards|
|26||Baylor College of Medicine||$301,689,095 through 515 awards|
|25||New York University (NYU) Grossman School of Medicine||$303,925,843 through 516 awards|
|24||University of Wisconsin-Madison||$305,019,304 through 608 awards|
|23||Brigham and Women’s Hospital||$308,419,887 through 579 awards|
|22||University of Minnesota||$316,902,468 through 686 awards|
|21||Northwestern University at Chicago||$333,297,150 through 605 awards|
|20||Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai||$350,777,315 through 640 awards|
|19||RTI International (Research Triangle Institute)||$355,059,620 through 84 awards|
|18||Vanderbilt University Medical Center||$357,135,751 through 507 awards|
|17||Emory University||$429,776,965 through 764 awards|
|16||The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||$456,919,580 through 919 awards|
|15||University of California, San Diego||$476,884,458 through 1,011 awards|
|14||Washington University in St. Louis||$478,435,137 through 978 awards|
|13||Columbia University Health Sciences||$481,845,918 through 923 awards|
|12||Duke University||$484,735,147 through 847 awards|
|11||Stanford University||$496,363,341 through 995 awards|
|10||Yale University||$512,611,430 through 1,010 awards|
|9||University of Washington||$505,071,973 through 952 awards|
|8||University of Pittsburgh at Pittsburgh||$507,399,383 through 1,076 awards|
|7||Massachusetts General Hospital||$511,815,008 through 944 awards|
|6||University of Pennsylvania||$553,442,380 through 1,175 awards|
|5||University of Michigan at Ann Arbor||$579,203,245 through 1,238 awards|
|4||Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center||$598,904,570 through 274 awards|
|3||University of California, Los Angeles||$629,215,516 through 835 awards|
|2||University of California, San Francisco||$636,062,320 through 1,306 awards|
|1||Johns Hopkins University||$722,890,586 through 1,339 awards|
Although this list isn’t conclusive, it can be used to get an idea of which schools depend heavily on research funding.
Note that U.S. News data from the same year, although it has certain discrepancies, rank most of these schools similarly.
The big difference being ranking Harvard University at the top, followed by the University of Washington and then UCLA (Source).
How accurate is this data?
There are a couple of problems with using NIH’s data to estimate just how research-heavy a school might be.
The first problem revolves around affiliations.
Harvard University, for example, has over 15 affiliated hospitals and research institutes. When research money is spread out across each, the actual amount Harvard Medical School receives is significantly lower.
The second is the assumption that funding equates to selection bias.
Just because a certain school on this list appears to get a lot of research funding, doesn’t mean it’ll necessarily admit applicants based on research experience.
The admissions criteria for most of these schools are typically much more complicated than that.
Do all these schools favor research-heavy applications?
The only way to know for sure is to speak to past and present alumni who may be better positioned to give an opinion.
Asking them about their level of research experience prior to getting accepted into medicine, and seeing if you can spot a potential trend, is probably the best way to do this.
Here’s the kind of questions you may want to ask:
- How many research hours did you log before being accepted?
- What fields (and what insitutions) did you complete research at?
- Did you get any publications (and, if so, where)?
- What’s your gut feeling in terms of how much emphasis the admissions team puts on research?
Because medical schools won’t usually state how much weighting they give to candidates with a strong research background in their admissions criteria (instead commonly referring to it as a “preference”), it’s hard to give a direct answer.
Most of what we know is typically assumed.
Who should tailor an application toward a research-heavy med school?
Clearly, if you have great research experience (and you feel it could be a strong differentiator), you should not be deterred from applying to any of the supposed research-heavy schools on the lists above.
Being able to detail it on your personal statement or extracurriculars section can certainly help give you a competitive edge.
But there is a right way to go about it.
You don’t want to exaggerate your involvement or show a lack of understanding. Any scheduled interviews will quickly expose either.
For more tips on how best to write (and talk) about your research experiences, take a look at the following article…
Should you apply to them if you don’t have publications?
You should definitely still apply to a research-heavy medical school even if you don’t have publications.
Because not all publications are equal, coupled with the fact that a publication doesn’t necessarily suggest your level of contribution, understanding, and involvement, you can’t place too much importance on them.
Admissions teams understand this and will look at your application as a whole to see if there other areas (and other extracurriculars) where you stand out. I talk more about this here; No Research Experience For Medical School? (7 Things To Do).
And while of course being a 1st author, 6th author or even an abstract can look seriously impressive (even more so if it’s in a particularly esteemed journal), it is pretty rare as far as pre-meds go.
So don’t see your lack of publications as too much of an impediment!
What is the “average” research experience for these schools?
Average research experience is something of a difficult question.
Because many factors go into determining the quality of research, it’s also something of a redundant point.
Here are some common variables:
- The amount of hours of research
- Number of labs
- Depth of the work
- Objective importance of the work
- Field of research
Because no one research project looks the same (based on these points), it’s incredibly difficult to give any tangible average.
I talk more about this in the article below…
Why is research such a big thing?
Although having done research is not required to apply for med school, it’s still a big deal when it comes to any discussion surrounding the topic.
The reason why many colleges care is that research funding helps boost several factors that help elevate their status in terms of international rankings.
More funding leads to more opportunities like…
- Improving facilities and resources
- Attracting the best teachers and professors
- Increased commercial opportunities
And then of course there is med school ranking themselves.
These go a long way to attracting top-caliber applicants!
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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.