University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine on Thursday joined a growing list of elite schools to end their participation in U.S. News & World Report’s medical school rankings.
In a letter to U.S. News, Dr. Mark Anderson, Pritzker’s dean, cited concerns about methodology and equity, asking U.S. News to convene stakeholders—including medical school applicants, current medical students and other medical schools—to determine a better way to measure schools and report on what matters to applicants.
The series of medical school deciding to reject the rankings program by no longer submitting data started with Harvard Medical School, which announced its decision Jan. 17. It was followed by Stanford University School of Medicine, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and now University of Chicago’s medical school.
So far, institutions like Stanford University School of Medicine and the Icahn School of Medicine have emphasized that their health systems are still participating in the U.S. News “Best Hospitals” rankings, as the list uses different methodologies.
However, Mount Sinai said it plans to re-evaluate its participation in other U.S. News rankings over time, and others may follow suit.
Despite consistently placing high on the list—Harvard Medical School was rated No. 1 in research—the universities expressed the desire to be judged on more wide-ranging criteria, including the diversity of their student population, commitment to social justice, research accomplishments, societal impact and values of students and faculty. They argue those factors are a more accurate and equitable way for prospective students to evaluate colleges.
“The U.S. News rankings reduce us to a number that does not do justice to these profoundly important attributes, instead perpetuating a narrow focus on achievement that is linked to reputation and is driven by legacy and privilege,” said Dr. Dennis Charney and Dr. David Muller, deans at the Icahn School of Medicine in a news release.
The rankings rely on a number of factors, including student test scores, graduation rates and debt levels, as well as faculty salaries and per-student spending, which critics say are heavily influenced by institutional wealth.
College presidents, provosts and admission deans also rate the academic quality of their peer schools in a survey as part of the ranking.
U.S. News’ mission is to help the millions of students that look at its medical school rankings make decisions by providing data and solutions, said Eric Gertler, the company’s CEO and executive chairman, in a statement responding to Harvard’s decision.
“We know that comparing diverse academic institutions across a common data set is challenging, and that is why we have consistently stated that the rankings should be one component in a prospective student’s decision-making process,” he said.
A main consideration for medical schools when considering whether or not to participate in rankings is how it will affect their image.
Rankings garner the attention of applicants and their families but they are not directly related to a school’s ability to make a good physician, said Dr. Holly Humphrey, president of the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, which funds the advancement of education and training for health professionals.
“The most important way that one comes to understand the educational process at that school is through multiple data sources and the many ways in which an individual interfaces with an institution,” she said. “The experience of talking to faculty, students and individuals who have been patients.”
Similarly, a school’s reputation, which is separate from its rating, is another way that schools can market themselves to prospective students, said Stephen Greyser, marketing professor at Harvard Business School.
Instead of relying on rankings, medical schools should tout the successes and accomplishments of former students, residents and interns, which could spread through word of mouth or targeted advertisements in renowned journals or other sites, Greyser said.
Overall, a ranked list cannot capture the complexity of how suited a particular medical school is to any given student, regardless of methodology, said George Daley, dean of Harvard Medical School, in a news release.
“Rankings create perverse incentives for institutions to report misleading or inaccurate data, set policies to boost rankings rather than nobler objectives, or divert financial aid from students with financial need to high-scoring students with means in order to maximize ranking criteria,” Daley said.
To help students better evaluate their options, the Stanford School of Medicine plans to begin independently reporting its own performance data starting March 1, said Dr. Lloyd Minor, the school’s dean, in a news release. The data will include faculty accomplishments and impact in education, research and patient care.
“Our decision, along with those of a growing number of peer institutions, is necessary to lead a long-overdue examination of how medical education quality is evaluated and presented to aspiring students,” Minor said.