The U.S. is arguably the best place in the world to study medicine.
Other countries have produced brilliant physicians and continue to do so, but American universities dominate the top of the U.S. News’ list of best clinical medical schools in the world. These schools conduct the most advanced research in specialized fields, thereby improving the health of everyone.
The best schools also focus on reaching underserved communities. Those who live in remote or rural towns need as much medical attention as those who live in big urban areas. Equalizing health care by geography and demographics is another factor that distinguishes a good health program from a great one.
Some of the most significant medical breakthroughs have come from these top research institutions: the first successful heart valve surgery, the first successful kidney transplant, the discovery of Alzheimer’s disease, the development of vaccines for polio. The world would be a very different place without these innovations. With even more complex problems to solve today, innovation and experimentation have never been more vital.
The following schools — ranked according to their placement in the US News Medical School – Research List — each offer freshly structured curriculum, special programs, and/or unique clinical opportunities that set them apart from America’s 185 other medical programs. You’ll learn about what makes each school special, including the achievements of the most accomplished alumni and faculty from these institutions.
15 (tie). University of Michigan Medical School (Ann Arbor, MI)
Michigan Medicine encompasses the university’s affiliated hospitals and medical school, which has consistently outperformed most others in the nation.
Through the Interprofessional Clinical Experience (ICE), students start getting clinical experience within the first semester of year one. ICE exposes students early to the collaborative and interpersonal aspects of healthcare. Clerkship experiences also begin as early as the second year, followed by advanced third and fourth-year clinical rotations.
Michigan Medicine includes renowned specialty centers such as the W.K. Kellogg Eye Center, the Brehm Center for Diabetes Research, and the C.S. Mott Children’s & Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital.
Students also have the option of pursuing combined MD/PhD, MD/MBA, or MD/MPH degrees.
Famous alumni include politician and neurosurgeon Ben Carson, CNN medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, and Alexa Canady, the first African American female neurosurgeon in the U.S.
15 (tie). Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine (Chicago, IL)
The Feinberg School of Medicine sets itself apart from most other med schools by not giving letter grades. First and second-year students are graded on a pass or fail basis, while third and fourth-year students are given honors, high pass, pass, or fail grades. Furthermore, three afternoons per week are kept free for students to engage in optional or extracurricular activities.
The absence of traditional grading does nothing detract from the school’s excellence; in fact, because students feel less pressure to be at the top of their class, they have the time and space to focus on learning and quality patient care.
The Feinberg School partners with Northwestern Memorial Hospital, the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab to educate the next generation of physicians and treat tens of thousands of patients every year.
13 (tie). Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (Nashville, TN)
The School of Medicine at Vanderbilt ranks highly in a number of specialties, including internal medicine, anesthesiology, surgery, pediatrics, and radiology.
The Vanderbilt Medical Center is dedicated to research. The university’s genetic database, BioVU, houses the country’s most extensive collection of adult and pediatric DNA samples, which is still growing daily. These and many other research projects have solidified Vanderbilt’s place as one of the top-funded institutions by the NIH.
Alumni Dorothy M. Horstmann was a pioneering epidemiologist and pediatrician who conducted key research into polio and rubella, paving the way for the development of safe and effective vaccines for each. Horstmann became the first female professor at Yale School of Medicine in 1961.
Alumni Sanford Rosenthal discovered the antidote to mercury poisoning, found an antibiotic cure for pneumonia, and developed a better way to treat burn victims.
13 (tie). University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine (Pittsburgh, PA)
Like Michigan, Pitt Med allows students to get crucial clinical experience starting in year one. In the Introduction to Being a Physician course, students interview patients in community healthcare settings, learning the medical and interpersonal skills of being a physician, among other basics. In fact, first and second-year students dedicate one afternoon per week to applying new skills at local practices and hospitals.
To demonstrate the school’s research focus, all Pitt Med students complete a longitudinal research project, which spans all four years of their studies. The goal is to produce new knowledge and provide clinical training that graduates continue to develop in their careers.
Notable alumni include pioneer breast cancer researcher Bernard Fisher, Angiogenesis Foundation co-founder William W. Li, and forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz.
11 (tie). Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis (St. Louis, MO)
Like Northwestern, WUSM does not bestow letter grades for all four years.
The university also announced it would spend $100 million to eliminate tuition for half of all MD students. The scholarship began in 2019 and aims to reduce student debt. Those who do not receive the scholarship in the first year have the opportunity to receive partial scholarships.
WUSM’s top-ranked specialties include radiology, obstetrics and gynecology, surgery, and anesthesiology. Also notable are programs in physical therapy, occupational therapy, and audiology & communication sciences, including a Doctor of Audiology (AuD) degree and a Master of Science in Deaf Education (MSDE).
The school has produced a handful of winners of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: biochemists Earl Sutherland and Edwin G. Krebs and microbiologist Daniel Nathans.
11 (tie). Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine (Rochester, MN)
Students at the Alix School of Medicine benefit from being a part of the Mayo Clinic Health System, which serves over 60 communities throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Students can choose to complete rotations at any one of these hospitals as well as Mayo Clinic campuses in Phoenix, Arizona and Jacksonville, Florida. As a result, at least 20% of graduate physicians work at Mayo medical centers.
MDs also graduate with low med school debt, thanks to generous scholarships.
First and second-year students get to take “selectives” — one to two-week student-selected courses designed to broaden clinical skills and experiences not covered in the main curriculum. Third-year students write a scientific research paper that they often submit for publication. Over 80% of Mayo students graduate with a published research manuscript in a peer-reviewed journal.
10. Yale School of Medicine (New Haven, CT)
Yale med students benefit from a personal research librarian, who helps the student navigate the school’s extensive resources to produce a high-quality thesis by graduation. The program has caught on around the world: Duke University, University of Toronto, and Rhodes University in South Africa have also paired personal librarians with incoming students.
Without a personal librarian, the Harvey Cushing and John Hay Whitney Medical Library can be intimidating — it’s one of the country’s largest medical libraries.
Med students can earn dual degrees in conjunction with Yale Law School (MD/JD), Yale School of Management (MD/MBA), Yale School of Public Health (MD/MPH), Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (MD/PhD), or Yale Divinity School (MDiv). Students can also opt for a fifth year to study abroad or conduct further research.
Notable faculty include pioneering neurobiologist Patricia Goldman-Rakic, Nobel Prize winning physiologist Brian Kobilka, and pharmacologist Alfred Gilman Sr., who pioneered chemotherapy.
9. Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)
Founded in 1765, Penn Med comprises the nation’s first medical school and first school hospital, carrying this illustrious legacy to the modern day. Class of 1965 graduate Michael S. Brown won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering the regulation of cholesterol metabolism. Alumni Gregg Semenza shared the 2019 Nobel Prize in the same category for discoveries of how cells adapt to oxygen availability.
UPenn is also the center of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, a major multi-hospital health system made up of 13 Philadelphia hospitals. The health system has been named the best in the city and state.
7 (tie). University of Washington School of Medicine (Seattle, WA)
Founded in 1946, UWSOM was the first public medical school in the five-state region of Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho. As a result, it’s a leader in rural medicine and primary care.
The sprawling “WWAMI” partnership maintains a network of teaching facilities in over 100 cities throughout the five-state region. Through the program, the University of Wyoming, University of Alaska-Anchorage, Montana State University, and University of Idaho educate a fixed number of med students each year for three semesters of foundational curriculum. The goal is to increase the number of primary care doctors in underserved areas in a cost-effective manner.
The program has contributed to UWSOM’s position as the nation’s leading institution for primary care education.
Notable alumni include Taiwanese politician and physician Shen Fu-Hsiung, American politician and orthopedic surgeon Al Gross, and physician and law professor Annette Clark.
7 (tie). Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (Baltimore, MD)
Since 2005, JHUSOM has implemented a learning community that resembles the houses of Hogwarts. Students are sorted into four colleges named after influential Hopkins faculty — Nathans, Sabin, Taussig, and Thomas. Advisors of each cluster guide students through courses, research, and career selection. The program is intended to foster camaraderie among students throughout all four years of medical training.
Curriculum is also structured in an innovative way. Known as Genes to Society, coursework focuses on health and disease as it adapts to the environment instead of the traditional dichotomy of what is normal (health) versus abnormal (disease). Students participate in clerkships as early as year one, and every few months have weeklong classes in topics in interdisciplinary medicine.
Eighteen of Johns Hopkins’ 39 Nobel Prize winners are affiliated with JHUSOM.
4 (tie). Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons (New York, NY)
Like UPenn, Columbia has a history of educating physicians dating back to before the American Revolution.
In 2018, Vagelos College was the first medical school in the country to replace all student loans with need-based scholarships. This means that 20% of students can attend on a full ride.
Instead of the customary distinctions between years one through four, Columbia has restructured the curriculum into three broad sections: Fundamentals, Major Clinical Year, and Differentiation and Integration. In addition, students must complete a scholarly research project in order to earn their degree.
The Celiac Disease Center at Columbia, directed by Dr. Peter Green, was recognized in 2018 as the world’s leader in expertise on Celiac disease.
Other notable faculty have included Nobel laureates Richard Axel, Eric Kandel, and Joachim Frank; author and neurologist Oliver Sacks; and Pulitzer Prize winner Siddhartha Mukherjee.
4 (tie). University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine (San Francisco, CA)
UCSF is the #1 med school in the country for internal medicine and obstetrics & gynecology.
It also has a particular focus on treating the underserved communities of San Francisco. The Benioff Homelessness & Housing Initiative, Center for Community Engagement, and Population Health & Health Equity all work hand-in-hand to address disparities in healthcare. They aim to make UCSF as accessible to the community as the public library.
It was at UCSF that Stanley Prusiner discovered prions, a new disease-causing agent, alongside bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. For this, he won the 1997 Nobel Prize in Medicine.
1989 Nobel Prize winners Michael Bishop and Harold Varmus discovered the cellular origins of retroviral oncogenes.
UCSF med school faculty and alumni have also won Lasker Awards, Shaw Prizes, and National Medals of Science.
4 (tie). Stanford University School of Medicine (Stanford, CA)
Founded in 1858, Stanford was California’s first med school.
The School of Medicine runs a top-notch biosciences graduate program, particularly in cell biology; genetics, genomics, and bioinformatics; and neuroscience and neurobiology.
Along with UCSF, University of Washington, Duke, and University of Michigan, Stanford’s curriculum follows an innovative “flipped classroom” setup, whereby students watch lectures outside the classroom and collaborate with peers on “homework” exercises in class. Students benefit from a higher level of involvement and understanding of fundamental material.
The School of Medicine also offers a prestigious Master of Science in PA Studies, which trains and educates future physician assistants alongside MD students.
Distinguished alumni include physician and Paralympian Cheri Blauwet, former director of the world’s first sleep medicine clinic Alexander A. Clerk, and heart transplant pioneer Randall B. Griepp.
3. Duke University School of Medicine (Durham, NC)
In addition to the “flipped classroom” initiative, Duke’s medical curriculum is structured into basic sciences (first year), clinical rotations (second year), scholarly research (third year), and clinical electives (fourth year). Thus, students get early clinical experience and have the chance to pursue research interests.
The Duke Clinical Research Institute is the world’s largest academic clinical research organization, which conducts phase I to phase IV trials across the spectrum of diseases. Researchers benefit greatly from the vast selection of patient registries — over 100,000.
Duke is also responsible for the country’s first physician assistantship program, launched in 1965. Today it still leads the nation in producing the finest PAs.
Notable faculty include Samuel Katz — developer of the measles vaccine — and gastroenterologist Peter B. Cotton, creator of the ERCP procedure.
2. New York University Grossman School of Medicine (New York, NY)
NYU is perhaps most notable for eliminating tuition for all current and future med students, a life-changing opportunity that began in 2018.
NYU also offers a plethora of dual degree programs, combining an MD with a master’s in health policy and management, global health, general management, bioethics, and clinical investigation. There is also an accelerated three-year MD track modeled after the one in McMaster University Medical School in Canada.
The Grossman School has a long history of fostering scientific breakthroughs. Avram Hershko shared the 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering the ubiquitin system in protein degradation. Julius Axelrod won the 1970 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his research on the release and reuptake of catecholamine neurotransmitters, which include epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
The Grossman School is part of NYU Langone Health, which comprises many prestigious specialty institutes, such as the Clinical and Translational Science Institute, Institute for Computational Medicine, and the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine.
1. Harvard Medical School (Cambridge, MA)
We hardly need to sing Harvard’s praises — as the #1 med school in America and the world, HMS has earned its prestige.
Just some of the school’s long list of medical achievements include the development of artificial skin for burn victims, the first successful reattachment of a severed limb, and the introduction of insulin to treat diabetes.
MD students can choose one of two tracks. One is called Pathways, a traditional four-year education emphasizing active learning and early entry into clinical rotations. Pathways students take courses alongside Harvard dental students. The other track, known as Health Sciences & Technology (HST), is offered in conjunction with MIT. HST students, alongside PhD students from MIT, learn a comprehensive curriculum in both physicianship and biomedical engineering.
HMS students learn from a variety of teaching affiliates in and around Boston, including the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Joslin Diabetes Center, and Massachusetts Eye and Ear.