For decades, pre-med students depended on the annual medical school rankings by U.S. News and World Report to decide where to apply for physician education. But after several prominent med schools pulled out of the rankings, one resident began experimenting with artificial intelligence (AI) to create an alternative.
Brandon Turner MD, MSc, a radiation oncology resident at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, developed a free do-it-yourself tool using AI that allows prospective students to rank medical schools based on considerations that are most important to them. His research was published online in JAMA Network Open.
“One of the flaws with conventional ranking systems is that the metrics used in these tools are weighted based on the preferences and views of the people who developed these rankings, but those may not work for everyone,” Dr. Turner told this news organization.
He explained that there are different types of metrics used in the U.S. News ranking: one for research and the other for primary care. “The research rankings carry the most prestige and are the ones that most people know about,” he explained. These metrics take into account factors such as how many grant dollars the medical school receives and the average size of those grants per faculty member, Dr. Turner said.
Admission metrics are also included – for example, the median grade point average or MCAT scores of students who have been accepted. “These don’t tell you anything about the research output of the school, only about how selective the school is,” he said.
Primary care metrics might focus on how many graduates of a given school go into primary care, or how other schools rate the quality of primary care training at a given school – a process called peer assessment, Dr. Turner said.
But even though these might be helpful, students may be more interested in the cost of attendance, average debt, representation of minorities, and how many graduates pass their boards, he said. “U.S. News metrics don’t capture these things, but I included them in my algorithm.”
A U.S. News spokesperson said that the publication continues to help students and their families make decisions about their future education. The spokesperson cited U.S. News’ explanation of how it calculates its rankings. “A school’s overall Best Medical Schools rank should be one consideration and not the lone determinant in where a student applies and accepts,” the article states.
Dr. Turner agreed ranking systems are a good starting point when researching med schools, “but the values reflected in the ranking may not reflect an individual’s goals.”
Tyra-Lee Brett, a premed student at the University of South Florida, Tampa, believes an additional tool for students to evaluate medical schools is needed – and she could potentially see herself using Dr. Turner’s creation.
Still, Ms. Brett, a premed trustee of the American Medical Student Association, doesn’t regard any ranking tool as the “be all and end all.” Rather, she feels that the most effective tool would be based on students’ lived experiences. The AMSA is developing a scorecard in which students grade schools based on their opinions about such issues as housing, family planning, and environmental health, she said.