Choosing a Medical School: Does Prestige Matter?
24 May, 2022
Studying medicine is a complicated process that involves not only getting a good GAMSAT score, but also choosing a medical school Australia to apply to. Does it really matter which university I study at? Will I get a job after I graduate if I study there? Will my friends with a degree from that university be more successful than me? These are all common questions when applying for any course, and medicine is no exception.
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You may be pleased to hear that no, university prestige does not predict the quality of a medical degree. Given that this is the case, how should you choose a medical school? How do you know which one is the best if prestige is not what matters?
Applying for medicine is a stressful enough time as it is, and we all want to attend the university that is right for us. So here I’m going to break it down for you and explain just what university prestige and rankings mean, and which factors matter most when choosing a medical school Australia.
What do University Rankings mean?
Every year, you may hear about the release of various university ranking lists, where every university is given an overall ranking, and can also be ranked by faculty or subject. You may also see bus stop ads or receive emails from universities bragging about being “26th in the world for Medicine” or “Highest ranked university in Australia.”
But how are these rankings even calculated?
Most of the university rankings we hear about are actually based on the research output of a university, that is: the status of the journals in which academics from that university publish in, how often those articles are cited by others, and how many PhDs are obtained per university. Therefore, the older a university is (for example USyd versus UNSW), the easier it is for that university to maintain a high ranking.
Furthermore, the factors that do matter to prospective medical students, such as student experience or medical graduate success in the workforce, do not usually contribute to these rankings. So, even if one university in Australia produced significantly more “successful” doctors, this wouldn’t directly affect their rank.
Therefore, when it comes to choosing a medical school Australia, take the rankings with a pinch of salt. A highly ranked university may not necessarily provide good quality teaching, and a university with good quality teaching may not rank highly, simply due to how the rankings are calculated. On the other hand, if you are interested in pursuing research, as part of a combined MD/PhD or otherwise, the rankings may be useful, as they can provide you with an indication of where some of the more prolific researchers are. (Even so, you should still be looking at other factors, such as whether the academics at a particular institution are studying the topic that you are interested in researching.)
Will I get a job after I graduate?
This brings us to another common concern: that future employers will prefer to hire medical graduates from these more “prestigious” universities. However, unlike in other fields, the shortage of qualified individuals means that careers in medicine are pretty much guaranteed. In many states, domestic students who graduated in that state are guaranteed to get an intern job there. Let’s face it, the demand for medical professionals will always be there (robots can’t be that good already!). Moreover, medical practice involves the application of objective, evidence-based knowledge to a clinical scenario, and is therefore similar no matter where you studied in Australia. Therefore, waiting extra years to get into a more prestigious course could be worse off for your career than if you accepted a position straight away and got out into the workforce sooner to become a more experienced medical professional.
How will I know which medical school in Australia is the best?
Unfortunately, this is a tricky question to answer, especially considering the subjectivity of the matter. You can, however, rest assured that all medical schools in Australia have received accreditation from the Australian Medical Council, meaning that they have all been independently reviewed and found to be capable of producing competent doctors. No matter where you attend, you’ll still come out as a doctor at the end of the day.
That being said, different universities offer up different student experiences, so it’s not a bad idea to try and choose a university that will be a good fit for you. Of course, everyone has different values and opinions, so choosing a medical school Australia will always come down to the individual. Some factors that could come into play when deciding on your preferences include:
- Location - this is often one of the most important factors. Some people are able and willing to move interstate for medical school, whereas others may have commitments tying them down to their home state. Distance from your home or other accommodation may be important as well. It’s also important to consider that most states’ internship programs prioritise applicants who graduated from the same state, i.e. if you want to get an internship in Western Australia, it will help to have graduated from a Western Australian university. To read more on this topic, visit our blog article Moving Interstate to Study Medicine.
- Hospitals – different medical schools have rotation sites in different hospitals. Some of the larger, more established medical schools may have more opportunities to have placements in the large tertiary hospitals compared to smaller, newer medical schools. If this is important to you, it may be worth looking in to.
- Cost of living - different cities are more expensive to live in than others, and different areas of each city come with different costs (such as food prices, the rental market, and public transport costs). If you’re moving out of home to study, this is especially important to take into account before deciding where to go.
- Student life - being engaged in social clubs and activities, extra-curricular opportunities, or sporting teams can be great for meeting people and maintaining your wellbeing. If there’s something you’re really passionate about, check out the university website to see what student life is like. Moreover, having a university that will support your wellbeing can have a huge impact on your experience as a medical student.
- Course structure - lastly, even though the content of medical knowledge that is taught is essentially the same across the universities, the structures between courses can vary quite a lot. Some universities get you into the hospitals earlier, and some devote more time than others to placements in rural areas. If there is an aspect of medicine that you’re already passionate about, or a structure of learning that you’re particularly drawn to, this could be something you consider early on.
So, as you can see, choosing a high-ranking university isn’t exactly the best way to choose your prospective medical course. Rather, you should consider the “softer” factors, such as student culture, whether the location is right for you, and course structure, as all of these factors will have a bigger impact on your life than university prestige.
All in all, choosing a medical school Australia is not an easy task, however studying at a medical school that you enjoy and that supports your well-being (rather than which has the highest rank or greatest “prestige”) will give you the best opportunity to become the doctor that you aspire to be. I have heard some say that the best medical school for you is the one that accepts you. Getting in anywhere is something to be celebrated! (Of course, it is still good to have options, so make sure you follow our blog for more tips on GAMSAT and interview preparation so that you can maximise your chances of getting into the medical school of your dreams!).
For more information about the different admission requirements of medical schools in Australia, check out our comprehensive guide: Australian Graduate Medical Schools - Admission Requirements.