When Deciding Where To Apply to Med School, Look Behind The Numbers

Learn Interesting Trends in the Medical Community. Consider Your Goals.

When deciding where to apply to medical school, there are numerous things to evaluate.  You will want to look at everything from admit statistics and geography to teaching style and grading systems.  But, what about your short and long term goals?  How important are they when it comes to choosing a medical school?  While it is far too early to get your heart set on a specific specialty, you may want to start thinking broadly about what you want to do long-term.  Are you set on primary care, interested in surgery, or committed to having a career in research?  Assessing your interests now is significant because, for instance, you won’t want to go to a school with a research requirement if you’re not interested in doing any. 

It is also important to dig deep and look behind the numbers schools report, so you know exactly what’s going on out there.  This is especially important when it comes to primary care.  If you’re interested in primary care, it is easy to just peruse the US News & World Report’s Primary Care Rankings and begin formulating a list of schools to which you could apply. However, the percentages of students going into primary care, that these schools report, are often aspirational to say the least.  Schools, such as the University of North Carolina, ranked 1st in the US News & World Report Primary Care Rankings, are finding that more than half of those who claim primary care actually end up specializing in something else. 

“About 10 years ago, our legislature passed a bill saying medical schools have to put 50 percent of people into primary care,” said Robert Gwyther, M.D. who advises students at UNC-Chapel Hill. “They count internal medicine and pediatrics and obstetrics as primary care, and it’s still a challenge for UNC to get the 50 percent.”

“And we know that 95 percent of the interns will end up practicing in a specialty,” he said.

Schools like UNC continue to combat primary care’s shortage of physicians, but it has proven to be a difficult task.  When Duke University School of Medicine experimented with what the school calls a “primary care leadership track,” several years ago, only three students out of Duke’s 102 graduates chose family-medicine residencies.  More recently, the Frank N. Netter MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University, opened with a very specific mission: mint new doctors who want to go into primary care practice.  Bruce Koeppen, Quinnipiac’s Dean, says it’s important to admit the right students to the program, so he will interview 400 applicants for 60 spots.  He will be looking more closely at women, individuals coming to medicine as a second career, those who are first in their families to go to college and students who have come from medically underserved areas, as these are the individuals more likely to go into primary care. 

Time will tell whether or not Quinnipiac will succeed.  And time will tell whether you decide to pursue primary care, a highly sought-after specialty or a career in research.  In the meantime, arm yourself with knowledge, look behind the numbers and start to formulate a vision for your future.  It will make the process of choosing where to attend medical school that much more meaningful.