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Best medical schools don't produce the most-needed doctors

June 14, 2010 |  2:00 pm

The nation has too few doctors, especially primary-care or family physicians and those who care for underprivileged populations, according to many studies. But don't look to the leading institutions for much help with this, say the authors of a new study. Researchers scored all U.S. medical schools on their ability to produce doctors who will work in primary care and in underserved communities.

Most of the schools with the finest reputations scored abysmally on the "social mission" criteria. That's not terribly surprising considering that the schools that rank as the best are often those that put a priority on research science. The survey, published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that schools with substantial research funding from the National Institutes of Health did poorly in producing the most-needed type of doctors, as did private medical schools. Historically black schools, such as Morehouse College and Meharry Medical College, scored the highest in social mission rankings. The surveys were based on 60,000 doctors in active practice who graduated from medical school between 1999 and 2002.

Here are some details:

  • The highest-ranking schools in social-mission scores were: Morehouse, Meharry, Howard University, Wright State University, University of Kansas, Michigan State University, East Carolina University, University of South Alabama, University of Iowa and Oregon Health & Science University.
  • The top 10 lowest-scoring were: Johns Hopkins University, Stanford University, Duke University, Texas A&M University, Columbia University, Albany Medical College, Medical College of Wisconsin, University of Pennsylvania, Loyola University and Boston University.
  • Osteopathic schools placed more graduates into primary care.
  • Among California schools, UC Irvine ranked 138th among 141 schools in social mission. However, UC San Diego was among the few schools that received a large amount of government research funds while also producing a higher number of primary-care doctors.

Medical schools will be expanding enrollments for the first time in 30 years to meet the growing demand for health care. Perhaps the schools that turn out the most-needed types of doctors should receive the most financial support for expansion.

"Some schools may choose other priorities, but in this time of national reconsideration, it seems appropriate that all schools examine their educational commitment regarding the service needs of their states and the nation," the authors wrote.

-- Shari Roan

Photo: UCI Medical students at a student-run free clinic at the Orange County Rescue Mission's Village of Hope on Feb. 21, 2009. A survey found, however, that the school ranks low on promoting a "social mission" in medicine. Credit: Irfan Khan  /  Los Angeles Times.