"Students who bring diversity ... will have somewhat lower MCAT scores on average," she said, but "are students we very much want because they bring a lot and they're going to be great doctors."
Others said that the GPA factor hurts schools that accept more well-rounded students. "I would rather take an engineering major from MIT with a 3.0 grade point average than someone who went to an academically noncompetitive school" and had a higher GPA, said Wisconsin's Golden.
The deans recommended survey questions such as what percent of graduates are practicing primary care five years out of college or how many students are working in underserved communities.
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Panel members were also concerned about the research activity component, which accounts for 30 percent of the score for the best research schools. Research activity measures the total dollar amount of NIH grants awarded to the school and the dollar amount of NIH grants per faculty member.
Critics felt that institutions with large NIH research portfolios are not necessarily the best places for students to learn to become doctors. Duke's Andrews suggested that it would be better to look at the average number of papers published per student within a year of graduation.
Conference participants also felt that it would be helpful if students took part in the survey. "A lot of the things that we're discussing here don't really impact the students' education," said Andy McCullough, a fourth year medical student at Mount Sinai who suggested looking at other factors. "How many patients are the students seeing in the third year? How clinically competent are they?"
U.S. News's Morse agreed that student participation would greatly improve the rankings—but added that it would be difficult for U.S. News to conduct an independent survey of M.D. students without cooperation from medical schools.
Despite the panel's criticisms, the deans agreed that the current rankings have value. "You're trying to measure what's essentially immeasurable, and you do as good a job as anyone," said Jules Dienstag, dean of Harvard Medical School. He was one of several experts who suggested U.S. News explore a partnership with the Association of American Medical Colleges, which conducts annual surveys and compiles data on medical schools.
The rankings "drive the behavior of students and ... the behavior of medical schools," Dennis Charney, dean of Mount Sinai, concluded. "Some great ideas came out of today," he said. "The creativity that's going to be needed, but important, will be [to] get information from students who've been at our medical schools to help ... evaluate how well we've been doing."
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