13 medical schools boycott US News rankings: Who, why and what's next

Thirteen medical schools have withdrawn from U.S. News and World Report's rankings, beginning with Harvard Medical School on Jan. 17. 

Among the ranks are some of U.S. News' highest performers — Harvard Medical School still stands at number one. As exits continue to climb, so do questions: Why pull out now? What does this mean for U.S. News and World Report's famous rankings? And who might leave next?

Why now?  

Since 2020 — when the COVID-19 pandemic and killing of George Floyd illuminated disparities in several sectors of American life, including medicine — conversations surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion began to gain steam. 

People began to question hierarchies, social and institutional. In a Nov. 9 Becker's feature titled "Does prestige belong in medicine?" Gary Kaplan, MD, former CEO of Virginia Mason Fransican Health, said, "I'm not advocating for medicine to not be a sought after or prestigious profession, but the reason people go into medicine should not be because they want to be in a prestigious profession." 

Law schools set the scene for an exodus when they began to pull out of U.S. News' rankings in November. Among the first to leave were Harvard's, Stanford's and Columbia's law schools; the same institutions' medical schools were first to back out of their respective rankings, too. 

The law schools cited many of the same concerns that medical school deans have expressed in community letters and news releases detailing the reasons for their withdrawal. U.S. News rankings lean on peer assessments from deans, admissions directors and academics, which some say creates an elitist "legacy" mentality. 

The rankings also account for students' test scores, but high performance on standardized tests indicates who is well-resourced, not necessarily well-equipped, according to Katrina Armstrong, MD, dean of Columbia University's medical school in New York City. 

Most medical schools that withdraw from the rankings agree that universities are too nuanced to be captured by a single number. 

"Medical education cannot be reduced to a set of numbers that purport to reflect its quality," said David Muller, MD, dean for medical education at Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine in New York City. "Candidates to medical school want to know about culture and climate, mentorship, opportunities for research and community service, wellness initiatives, curricular outcomes, and the depth and breadth of student support."

Who has withdrawn? 

The following schools have pulled out of U.S. News and World Report's ranking system, Becker's has learned. 

1. Harvard Medical School (Boston) 

2. Stanford (Calif.) School of Medicine

3. Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons (New York City)

4. University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine (Philadelphia)

5. Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (New York City)

6. University of Washington School of Medicine (Seattle)

7. Washington University School of Medicine (St. Louis)

8. University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine 

9. Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science 

10. Duke University School of Medicine (Durham, N.C.) 

11. University of Michigan Medical School (Ann Arbor) 

12. Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (Baltimore)

13. Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine (Pasadena, Calif.)

What's next for the rankings?

It is unclear if U.S. News will switch up its ranking system for medical schools. After backlash from law schools, the publication made changes to its law school ranking system, including reduced emphasis on peer assessment surveys, publishing more detailed profiles of each university, giving equal weight to all fellowships and making more data visible to prospective students, so they can run their own analyses. However, these shifts were not enough to reel law schools back in. 

When the University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Medicine withdrew, it requested a stakeholder meeting with the U.S. News list editors and affected medical school representatives to develop a more comprehensive, equitable rank system. U.S. News has yet to respond to the university's request. 

Some schools, like Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania, plan to develop their own systems of sharing information with prospective students and post performance metrics to their admissions sites. Although they will no longer report data to U.S. News, the publication can still rate them using publicly available information. 

No institutions that also own health systems have pulled out of the separate "best hospitals" rankings. U.S. News researchers have been working to add health equity measures to those rankings since 2019, although a lack of available data has slowed their progress. 

"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," Eric Gertler, CEO and executive chair of U.S. News, told Becker's in a statement Jan. 18. "The fact is, millions of prospective students annually visit U.S. News medical school rankings because we provide students with valuable data and solutions to help with that process."

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