Comparing Medical Schools: 6 Factors Parents of Pre-Med Students Should Keep in Mind

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Medical Schools

DR. SATESH BIDAISEE, Professor of Public Health and Preventive Medicine Dean School of Graduate Studies, St. George’s University

As a parent, you’ve been able to guide your child through a lot of firsts. It was pretty easy teaching them things like how to write a thank-you note and how to fold their laundry. But as your child has grown into an adult looking to attend medical school, their new endeavours are becoming more complicated. You might not be able to offer much help when your child needs to start studying for the MCAT or gaining physician shadowing experience.

You’re certainly not alone. Many parents have found themselves navigating the medical school application and selection process right alongside their pre-med children. For many of them, comparing medical schools can be especially intimidating.

While students are the ones who ultimately need to do the legwork and decide which programs would be the best fit for them, it’s a good idea for you to get up to speed as well. Educating yourself on how to compare programs can help you better understand what your student is going through and give you a frame of reference for when they want to discuss something specific. Get started with this overview.

ELEMENTS YOUR CHILD SHOULD CONSIDER WHEN COMPARING MEDICAL SCHOOLS

These are considerations you and your child will need to think through when comparing medical schools. Just be careful you don’t overstep. Your job is to offer support and help empower your student to make their own educated decision.

1. USMLE STEP 1 PERFORMANCE

Most physicians will tell you the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) Step 1 is the most important test they took during medical school. The other two USMLE portions are also important. This is why it’s essential that pre-meds verify the programs they’re considering adequately prepare students for this exam series. 

It’s wise to look into pass rates and average scores across different programs. Keep in mind that 96 percent of examinees from US and Canadian schools taking Step 1 for the first time in 2018 passed. That’s a quality standard you would want to see from international schools as well. It’s also good to know that scoring higher than 220 is a common characteristic among students who successfully match for a residency—and that’s true for students from US schools and those from international programs. 

It is important to make sure the students do well on their boards, which enables them to increase the number of interviews they receive and ultimately match. That’s the bottom line.

2. GRADUATE SUCCESS

You’ve probably known of several great medical schools for most of your life. Programs create that name recognition by developing a history of educating successful graduates. 


It means that year after year, they have produced physicians who have matched and are employed in competitive specialties and have a documented reputation of producing high-impact physicians.

3. THE LOCATION

No aspiring medial student should be too picky when it comes to location. Gaining acceptance to a quality medical school is tough. That said, your child can certainly keep location in the back of their minds if they find themselves with multiple options.


Location also comes into play later on. Some medical students, and perhaps your child, already know where they want to practice one day. Your son or daughter may have a better chance of securing a residency in that area if they’re able to meet physicians through volunteer work or clinical rotations. This means it’s also important to look into where a schools’ clinical rotations take place—some programs offer a variety of options for students. Consider that going farther away from home can sometimes be a positive aspect for medical students as well.

4. APPROPRIATE ACCREDITATION

While any school in the US and Canada will be appropriately accredited, you’ll want to verify this for programs in other locations. But be sceptical of an international medical school that states they have “US accreditation,” because that claim is deceptive at best. The Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) does not accredit programs outside the US and Canada. 

Instead, you should verify that an international program is accredited by an agency recognized by the World Federation for Medical Education (WFME). Starting in 2023, international medical graduates will only be eligible for the necessary certification to complete residency and practice in the US if they attended a school that meets this requirement. 

5. ABILITY TO PURSUE PERSONAL INTERESTS

It’s easy to get overly focused on Step 1 scores and residency placements when comparing medical schools. While those are important factors to consider, students shouldn’t forget about their personal interests. Some schools offer opportunities to further certain passions through organizations, events, and more. Those can be valuable for students.

6. FINANCIAL FEASIBILITY

Tuition and fees are probably on your mind—and possibly your child’s as well. While cost alone shouldn’t determine where your student attends school, it’s certainly worth considering. A slightly less expensive school could mean less student debt.

And keep in mind that evaluating the cost of any program should include numerous factors. When it comes to medical school, you really do get what you pay for.

START THE JOURNEY WITH YOUR STUDENT

Hopefully, you now feel like you have a better handle on which elements matter most when comparing medical schools. It can come in handy if your child needs some help talking through their decisions. While you should be careful about inserting yourself too much, many pre-med students rely on their parents for support during applications and even throughout their education.

If your child receives the good news, they’ll be starting medical school, be sure to celebrate. It’s a huge accomplishment. Taking time to enjoy moments like this is important during the rigorous process of becoming a doctor. 

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