College students use it. Patients pay attention to it. Hospitals tout their status in it. But are the U.S. News & World Report rankings of everything from high schools and universities to hospitals and medical colleges truly good assessments of the institutions relative quality?
Today the magazine’s annual assessment of graduate schools is available online and the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine hopped over its counterpart at Johns Hopkins University to claim second place behind Harvard University’s medical school.
In an interview Wednesday Penn’s medical school dean, Arthur Rubenstein, said he was proud that his school had earned the number two spot, but said the real achievement was sustaining its position in the top ranks of medical schools consistently over time. He called it “a wonderful endorsement.” But he also said that “the fact that we went from three to two, quite frankly, I don’t give a lot of weight, but to remain in the top five is outstanding.”
And Rubenstein acknowledged that if one of his researchers had proposed a study using the magazine’s methodology, he would have rejected the project.
The magazine’s criteria, which focus on surveys and research grant money, have been widely criticized for lacking scientific rigor and being little more than a medical beauty contest.
“Within academic circles, they are dismissed,” said William McGaghie, a professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, which tied for 18th this year.
In a 2001 article for the journal Academic Medicine, McGaghie and a colleague blasted the rankings, saying they “are ill-conceived; are unscientific; are conducted poorly; ignore medical school accreditation; judge medical school quality from a narrow, elitist perspective; and do not consider social and professional outcomes in program quality calculations.”
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