Harvard Medical School — a fixture at the top of the annual “Best Medical Schools” lists from U.S. News & World Report — said Tuesday that it will no longer submit data and participate in the rankings.
The announcement came in the form of a public letter to members of the Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Dental Medicine community from George Q. Daley, MD, PhD, dean of the faculty of medicine. This decision follows similar withdrawals from the U.S. News rankings by a group of the nation’s top law schools.
“Educational leaders have long criticized the methodology used by [U.S. News] to assess and rank medical schools,” Daley wrote in his letter. “However, my concerns and the perspectives I have heard from others are more philosophical than methodological, and rest on the principled belief that rankings cannot meaningfully reflect the high aspirations for educational excellence, graduate preparedness, and compassionate and equitable patient care that we strive to foster in our medical education programs.”
Daley noted that the “unintended consequences” of rankings are that they “create perverse incentives for institutions to report misleading or inaccurate data, set policies to boost rankings rather than nobler objectives, or divert financial aid from students with financial need to high-scoring students with means in order to maximize ranking criteria.”
“Ultimately,” he wrote, “the suitability of any particular medical school for any given student is too complex, nuanced, and individualized to be served by a rigid ranked list, no matter the methodology.”
Daley said that he had contemplated this withdrawal since becoming dean of Harvard Medical School 6 years ago.
“The courageous and bold moves by my respected colleague Dean John Manning of Harvard Law School and those of peer law schools compelled me to act on behalf of Harvard Medical School,” he wrote. “What matters most to me as dean, alumnus, and faculty member is not a #1 ranking, but the quality and richness of the educational experience we provide at Harvard Medical School that encourages personal growth and lifelong learning.”
In an emailed statement, U.S. News CEO and Executive Chairman Eric Gertler wrote, “Our mission is to help prospective students make the best decisions for their educational future. Where students attend school and how they use their education are among the most critical decisions of their life, and with admissions more competitive and less transparent, and tuition increasingly expensive, we believe students deserve access to all the data and information necessary to make the right decision.”
“We know that comparing diverse academic institutions across a common data set is challenging, and that is why we have consistently stated that the rankings should be one component in a prospective student’s decision-making process,” Gertler added. “The fact is, millions of prospective students annually visit U.S. News medical school rankings because we provide students with valuable data and solutions to help with that process.”
Daley noted in his letter that he recognizes “prospective applicants have legitimate interests in evaluating attributes of our school,” and that he values “transparency and accountability.”
To that end, he said that Harvard Medical School will continue to “publicly share key information” on its admission website, and that comparable details for U.S. medical schools are available via the Medical School Admission Requirements Reports for Applicants and Advisors, as part of the Association of American Medical Colleges website.
It is not yet clear whether other top medical schools also plan to withdraw from the U.S. News rankings.