California is home to some of the best schools in the U.S., especially for healthcare.
If you’re an aspiring doctor or medical researcher, these are some of the best graduate programs out there. The following ranking is based on each school’s order of appearance in the 2021 US News National Medical Schools List – Research.
To help narrow down your options, we’ll discuss the unique opportunities and strengths of each school. For example, many make it their mission to treat underserved communities, while others focus on conducting breakthrough research.
Each school offers degrees in either allopathic (MD) or osteopathic (DO) medicine. The former is the traditional approach — diagnosing and treating diseases — whereas the latter focuses on treating patients holistically. Over the years, however, the two have grown increasingly similar in terms of rigor and curriculum, so the choice is yours on whether to pursue an MD or DO.
Here are the Golden State’s 10 best medical schools for your consideration.
10. Western University of Health Sciences (Pomona, CA)
Primarily offering DO degrees, Western University of Health Sciences operates medical schools both in Pomona, California and Lebanon, Oregon.
WesternU also offers comprehensive healthcare programs in dentistry, optometry, nursing, physician assistantship, physical therapy, pharmacy, and veterinary medicine.
The school runs a variety of patient care facilities — medical, dental, eye care, pharmacy, travel health, and pet health centers — giving students abundant access to healthcare professionals at work.
Notable alumni include Lee Burnett — U.S. Army colonel and founder of the Student Doctor Network — and Lawrence B. Harkless, “the father of diabetic foot care.”
9. Touro University of California (Vallejo, CA)
Touro University of California in Vallejo is part of the worldwide Touro College and University System. At Touro, students can learn osteopathic medicine (DO), pharmacy (PharmD), or combine either with a master’s in public health (DO/MPH or PharmD/MPH).
Touro is dedicated to taking care of underserved communities. Students often volunteer at the Touro Student-Run Free Clinic and The Suitcase Clinic in nearby Berkeley. Furthermore, students, faculty, and staff formed the Touro University Rainbow Health Coalition to promote health equity among LGBTQI people.
Faculty specialize in fields such as cognitive aging, immunology, infectious diseases, neuroscience, and nutrition. Alumni are no less impressive — Courtenay Stewart swam in the 2004 Olympics before earning her DO from Touro.
8. UC Riverside School of Medicine (Riverside, CA)
Begun in 2013, UCR’s med program is the UC system’s newest, for a total of six.
UCR School of Medicine awards MDs, and the most popular specialties include dermatology, internal medicine, psychiatry, and pediatrics.
The university offers a variety of scholarships that cover up to full tuition. The prestigious IEHP Dean’s Mission Award grants a full ride to those who specialize in general pediatrics, emergency medicine, family medicine, general internal medicine, general OB/GYN, general surgery, or general psychiatry.
Notable faculty include David Lo, an expert in mucosal immunology, and Devin Binder, professor and leader of UCR’s Translational Neuroscience Lab.
7. UC Irvine School of Medicine (Irvine, CA)
UCI is on the cutting edge of research, education, and patient care, thanks to close ties between the School of Medicine and UCI Health, its main hospital.
In addition to an MD degree, UCI offers a number of dual degree programs, such as the MD/MPH.
U.S. News has consistently ranked the med school among the best in the nation. UCI Health doctors and researchers particularly excel in the fields of gynecology and urology.
Specialized health centers include the UCI Skin Biology Resource Center and the new Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.
UCI med school professor Irwin Rose won the 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation.
6. UC Davis School of Medicine (Davis, CA)
In 2011, UC Davis School of Medicine reported an acceptance rate under 2%, making this a competitive place to earn an MD.
Like Touro, Davis emphasizes healthcare in underserved communities. Therefore, applicants with strong ties to the area may have an upper hand, though the same is true if you demonstrate involvement in any other underserved population.
The school gives students plenty of practical experience well before they begin clerkship. Over 80% of students gain experience in one of seven student-run clinics in inner-city communities.
In addition to MD, MD/PhD, and MD/MPH degrees, Davis is also home to the innovative Rural-PRIME program, which prepares physicians to work in the state’s rural neighborhoods.
The school has produced leaders in medicine like Jon Andrus, former deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization, and Suzanne Kilmer, leading laser surgeon and dermatologist at the Laser and Skin Surgery Center of Northern California.
5. University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine (Los Angeles, CA)
Founded in 1885, Keck is the oldest medical school in Southern California.
Time has transformed the school into one of the nation’s healthcare leaders. It has three affiliated teaching hospitals: Level I trauma center LAC+USC Medical Center, Keck Hospital of USC, and Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.
USC offers a variety of med school tracks: MD, MD/MPH, MD/PhD, and MD/MBA. The MD/PhD program is provided in part by nearby California Institute of Technology, designed to train those interested in academic medicine and the biomedical industry.
Keck is on the cusp of today’s most pressing medical conundrums. The Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute focuses on developing early detection methods and treatments for the disease.
Keck’s most famous alum is TV personality Dr. Drew Pinsky. Also well-known is Margaret Jessie Chung, the first known Chinese-American physician. In the 1920s, she was a pioneer for western medicine in San Francisco’s Chinatown, opening one of its first clinics.
4. UCSD School of Medicine (San Diego, CA)
UCSD School of Medicine’s current prestige is thanks in part to recruitment of exceptional medical professionals in its early days, including Yuan-Cheng “Bert” Fung, a pioneer of bioengineering and the “father of biomechanics.”
The school’s partnership with the nearby Salk Institute, a leading STEM research center, also adds to the quality and appeal of an MD education at UCSD.
Over the years, the school has been responsible for a number of medical breakthroughs, developing the life-saving pulmonary thromboendarterectomy (PTE) technique and experimenting with one of the nation’s first echocardiograms.
Important faculty include Doug Richman, an early HIV/AIDs researcher. Eventually, UCSD’s Owens Clinic became a globally acclaimed model for treating the disease.
Notable alumni include Margaret Allen, the first woman to perform a heart transplant.
3. UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine (Los Angeles, CA)
The first medical school in Southern California was the UCLA School of Medicine, later renamed after DreamWorks co-founder David Geffen donated $200 million to the institution in 2002.
With six affiliated hospitals and a roster of accomplished faculty, DGSOM offers MD, MD/PhD, MD/MBA, and MD/MPH programs. The estimated acceptance rate of 4% ensures that the best and brightest future physicians are educated here.
UCLA’s broad range of research centers have something for all interests. For example, the Crump Institute for Molecular Imaging gathers scholars from other STEM backgrounds — physics, math, engineering, and chemistry — to improve understanding of biology and medicine.
Prominent DGSOM alumni include plastic surgeon and TV personality Terry Dubrow, National Institutes of Health physician Leighton Chan, and leading breast cancer oncologist Eun-Sil Shelley Hwang.
2. UCSF School of Medicine (San Francisco, CA)
UCSF is home to the state’s second med school, founded in 1864. Since then, it has trained some of the country’s best physicians and attracted top talent to its faculty. MD graduates go on to become leaders in medicine, and five faculty members have won the Nobel Prize.
Shinya Yamanaka’s discovery of how to transform ordinary adult skin cells into stem cells won him the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 2012.
Elizabeth Blackburn won the same prize in 2009 for her discovery of telomerase, an enzyme that is crucial to normal cell function, cell aging, and many cancers.
UCSF is also ranked #1 by U.S. News in obstetrics and gynecology. It’s the #2 med school focused on primary care.
1. Stanford University School of Medicine (Palo Alto, CA)
Formerly known as University of the Pacific’s Cooper Medical College, Stanford’s School of Medicine was the first med school in the state, founded in 1858.
As a U.S. News top 5 research med school, Stanford’s MD and physician assistantship (PA) degree programs are highly competitive. The School of Medicine also runs the #1 biosciences graduate program in the U.S., ranking first in cell biology; genetics, genomics, and bioinformatics; and neuroscience and neurobiology departments.
Stanford med school faculty are world-class, eight of them having won the Nobel Prize. This includes Roger Kornberg, who worked to further our understanding of transcription, the process by which DNA is converted into RNA.
Notable alumni include Lori Alvord, the nation’s first female Navajo surgeon, and Mary Halton, suffragist leader and early proponent of legalizing birth control. Scott Edward Parazynski was a NASA astronaut and became the first person to both go to space and summit Mount Everest.