Most Important Factor In Picking A Medical School

Friday afternoon I had the privilege of interacting with prospective Rice-Baylor program candidates and their parents. One of the topics that came up was the single most important consideration in picking a medical school. US News & World Report Rankings, match lists, and class statistics (GPA/MCAT scores) are commonly cited as assessments in determining how “good” a medical school is, but in my opinion, the average USMLE Step 1 score is far more important.

A lot of things play into a high average, namely the type of students and quality of curriculum… and because it’s an average, it reflects on the entire class more so than any individual. USMLE Step 1 is the most important test a student will take in med school. It’s an objective assessment which standardizes the playing field across the country.

I’m a firm believer that the ultimate purpose of medical school is to get us into a residency program where our real training will begin. Under this assumption, I’ve questioned many MS4 colleagues about the most important factor in landing a residency interview, and most of them have said the USMLE Step 1 above all else (more than research, away rotations, recommendation letters, personal statement, etc.) By speaking to residency directors, I learned some programs have minimum Step 1 score cutoffs for consideration too… you know… just to make things even more difficult. 🙂

Public rankings follow research dollars, and match lists cannot be taken at face value. In fact, more schools should publish the percentage of their graduating class matching to one of their top three ranked programs (after all… not everyone wants to go to Harvard, Hopkins, or Cali). So overall, I think the average Step 1 score should be the screening metric in picking a medical school.

What do you think is the most important factor to consider?

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  1. Most of the Caribbean schools teach only towards this exam. As a result, many of their student perform very well on Step 1. Other schools are also very good at preparing students for this one test. That in itself does not make a good medical school, in my opinion. The caliber of the students at BCM and the unique curriculum with 1-yr of rotations before step may be responsible for high step 1 averages. In my opinion, medical school should be much more than just getting you into residency, in the same way that college should be more than getting you into med school and high school should be more than getting you into a college. This may indeed be the bottom-line. For all practical purposes, this may hold true. But to dismiss the impact of the unique experiences that one can have at different schools is short-sighted. Each stage of our education and careers provides a unique opportunity to learn and grow in ways that dependent on the people and experiences we choose to have in our lives. The school we choose ultimately provides us with different people to interact with and different experiences. In my opinion, the experience and personal growth from an educational institution is just as important as how well it gets us to the next level. Of course, how well it prepares us for that next level is also important. Baylor is a great school, and students that graduate from Baylor make top-notch doctors. But to measure a school simply by their average step 1 score may be short-sighted.

    • You are absolutely right, but it’s impossible to know of the experiences one will garner in medical school until actually starting. I wanted to focus more on a metric applicants can compare objectively before even applying. I’m just a little fed up with applicants and parents more interested in rankings rather than what really matters – getting into a good residency and building quality experiences. 🙂 Thanks for the much appreciated comment!

  2. I agree step one score is most important and I belive some foreign school ( read cariibean ) prepare student for this from Day 1. Is it good ? I am sure. I know one family whose one person went to Ivy league medical schol got less scorethan other memeber who went foreign school and got in better residency, go figure !


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