If you are looking to attend medical school, it is important to understand certain things about the available college programs. For example, some medical school rankings may be important to know if you are interested in doing medical research. For others, the rankings of schools that specialize in primary care may be more important.

Additionally, it’s important for potential applicants to understand the different types of medical degrees offered by different schools. One may be more suited to you and your interests and personal philosophy.

Understanding what schools offer within a certain location may be most important to you. If you want to stay close to home, focusing on location is important. Understanding which are the best medical universities in the world may be important to know if you are interested in practicing medicine internationally.

Medical Degree Program Accreditation

There are 141 accredited medical degree programs in the United States. The institutions that confer the degree of Doctor of Medicine are accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education. The U.S. also offers the degree of Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. There are 34 accredited DO programs which are accredited by the American Osteopathic Association Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation.

Worldwide, there are many accredited programs for the degree of medicine. These programs are accredited by the World Federation for Medical Education. In contrast to the schools located in the U.S., the number of accredited schools worldwide is vast. According to the World Directory of Medical Schools, as of 2017 there are 154 schools in Africa, 587 in Europe and 354 in the Mediterranean.

Medical School Rankings

In order to determine the top medical universities in the world, certain key factors are used to make the determination. In the U.S., schools are ranked for either research or primary care medicine. For research institutions, 12 factors are analyzed, and for primary care institutions, the analysis is based on only seven factors.

To rank a medical university for research, the following factors are reported and analyzed:

  •       Admissions statistics including MCAT scores
  •       Acceptance rate
  •       Faculty-student ratio
  •       Quality assessment
  •       Peer assessment score
  •       Assessment score
  •       Research activity
  •       Total National Institutes of Health research activity
  •       Total non-NIH research activity
  •       Average non-NIH federal research activity per faculty member
  •       Total nonfederal research activity
  •       Average nonfederal research activity per faculty member

To rank a medical university for primary care, the following factors are reported and analyzed:

  •       Admissions statistics including MCAT scores
  •       Acceptance rate
  •       Faculty-student ratio
  •       Student selectivity
  •       Median MCAT score
  •       Median undergraduate GPA
  •       Faculty resources

Things to Consider About Ranking

No matter what school you want to possibly attend, it’s important to look at some of these indicators no matter where the school is ranked nationally or internationally. For example, admissions statistics and acceptance rates are important. Schools with very low acceptance rates may prove to be almost impossible to get into.

Understanding how schools are ranked is also important to understand based on what you plan to do with your medical degree. If your plans are to actually practice medicine and interact with your own patients, then you want to focus on rankings based on primary care. However, if you want to put your medical knowledge into practice by advancing research, then you should focus on rankings based on medical research.

While understanding that rankings are important, simply attending a highly ranked school may not meet your specific needs. Be sure to check for the school's specialties. For example, if you want to specialize in pediatrics, a highly rated school for gastro-intestinal research may not meet your specific needs. In this case, you may opt for a lower-ranked school that is better aligned with your interests.

Medical University: Primary Care vs. Research

There are many things to consider when deciding on the best medical university for you, including the type of program, the ranking and how you plan to utilize your medical degree. Medical schools often fall into two separate categories of focus: primary care or research.


For a student with sights set on a research career, it is important to look at schools ranked by research. Whether it is within the U.S. or international, the top medical universities for research are ranked. Often, these schools are linked to NIH funding for specific research projects.

Efforts vary wildly across research hospitals. Some focus efforts on understanding disease and studying possible cures or medications. Other efforts may specialize in understanding causes of disease and understanding genetics. Some schools may focus their efforts on the environment and how certain practices affect humans.

If you are interested in applying your medical knowledge in a lab or in conducting research, then you should focus on a research school. Keep in mind that research schools have some of the most competitive acceptance rates.

Primary Care

For students hoping to practice medicine in a traditional doctor/patient setting, then the focus should be on a primary care medical school. If you are hoping to become a primary care physician or pediatrician, consider schools that focus on preventative medicine and public health.

Depending on the school, primary care medical schools generally have less competitive acceptance rates.

Experts say that to get the very best medical training, a school that specializes in both research and primary care is the gold standard. This may not be possible for some students for a variety of reasons. Remember that the medical school you attend as a medical student is just the beginning, as you have the opportunity to branch out and diversify your experiences during your specialized training and residency.

Best Medical Universities in the World

No matter your specialty area, if you are interested in practicing medicine globally or want to conduct international research, it’s important to look at schools outside of the U.S.

According to U.S. News & World Report and Becker’s Hospital Review, in 2019 the top medicine universities in the world for clinical medicine are as follows.

1. Harvard University

The No. 1 medical school in the world is Harvard University. Harvard is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts and was founded in 1636. The medical school is associated with Beth Israel Medical Center and Brigham Woman’s Hospital, both of which are teaching hospitals.

Harvard is a leader in medical research, as it is ranked No. 1 for the most cited research papers in the world.

2. Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins University is a private university located in Baltimore in the District of Columbia. It was founded in 1876 and has a highly ranked school of medicine. The Johns Hopkins Hospital is a teaching hospital and offers many opportunities for students to engage in research. The university is ranked No. 2 globally for clinical medicine and is highly ranked in many specialty areas.

3. University of California – San Francisco

The University of California – San Francisco was founded in 1864. The university only offers graduate-level programs. The university has four graduate-level programs including dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy.

The university partners with local universities for teaching and research. The University of California – San Francisco receives more funding from the NIH than any other public university in the U.S.

4. University of Oxford

Located in the United Kingdom, the University of Oxford traces all the way back to 1096. The university is ranked as one of the best global universities in Europe and the U.K. and is highly ranked specifically for clinical medicine.

The University of Oxford is ranked No. 3 for regional research and No. 1 for book publications. Interestingly, the university’s academic calendar is divided into three terms – Michaelmas (fall), Hilary (spring) and Trinity (summer) – each eight weeks long.

5. University of Toronto

The University of Toronto is located in Toronto, Canada and was founded in 1872. The university is highly diversified. Over 60 percent of its undergraduate students are international.

The university is most known for the medical innovation of insulin. Researchers at the University of Toronto discovered it in the early 1920s. The university’s diabetes center is named after the two researchers, one of whom went on to win the Nobel Prize for this work.

6. University of Washington

The University of Washington was founded in 1861, and its oldest and largest campus is located in Seattle. Of its graduate schools, the School of Medicine is highly ranked with the University of Washington Medical Center, which is a teaching hospital. A notable goal of the program is to increase the number of primary care physicians in rural areas.

Research funding for the university has topped 1 billion dollars. The school has more than 280 specialized research centers including the West Coast Poverty Center, the Polar Science Center and the Center for Emerging and Re-emerging Infectious Diseases.

7. Stanford University

Stanford University is located in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was founded in 1885 and more than half of the students in attendance are at the graduate level. Stanford University is ranked specifically for the subject area of clinical medicine. The university’s research funding has topped 1 billion dollars from the federal government.

8. University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania, also known as Penn, was founded in 1740 and is located in Philadelphia. Penn’s highly ranked graduate school for medicine has several specialties. With several million dollars spent on research funding, Penn has over 130 research institutes and centers.

Penn’s most notable centers for medical research include the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics and the Penn Institute for Urban Research.

9. Duke University

Duke University was established in 1838 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke University has many highly ranked graduate programs, including their medical school. The hospital associated with Duke University is a teaching hospital and focuses on specific areas of research.

Duke has spent billions of dollars on research, such as the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, the Duke Global Health Institute and the Duke Population Research Institute. Duke has partnered with schools internationally to create Duke Kunshan University in China and the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore.

10. Columbia University

Columbia University is a private university founded in 1754. It is located in the Manhattan area of New York City. One of the many highly ranked graduate programs associated with Columbia is the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Students at Columbia conduct research at more than 200 university institutes. Additionally, Columbia has established global centers in Jordan, Beijing, India, Paris, Istanbul, Kenya, Chile and Rio de Janeiro to support study and research opportunities for students.

Plan for Applications

No matter what your focus, degree choice or area of interest, experts agree that anyone seeking admittance into medical school needs to sort through all of the available information. In order to make an informed choice, look carefully at the things that matter to you. Narrow searches down to the degree or specialty area but also take acceptance rate into consideration.

Ranking is important, but faculty-student ratio may be more important to you. For some students, location may be the primary factor. No matter how you narrow your focus, keep in mind that not everyone gets accepted on the first try. Don’t be discouraged, though. Often, schools will accept an applicant the second time he applies.

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