Deciding to become a doctor is a hugely rewarding career choice: there is a lot of scope for career development, the salary and opportunities are top of the range, and you get to spend every day helping people and making a huge difference in their lives.
The downside, however, is that medical school is a pretty tough place to get into. Applicants must possess a flawless academic background to be considered for admission onto any medical programme, let alone the top colleges and universities, although you shouldn’t let this put you off. With the correct preparation and research, a successful application is certainly not impossible, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t aim big.
In order to get you started, we’ve consulted the QS University Rankings to bring you the crème de la crème of the clinical education world. These are the 11 best medical schools in the world.
10. University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) (tie)
Location: San Francisco, California, USA
Degree type: MD/MAS
UCSF has rightfully earned a place on this list. Indeed, in 2019, UCSF’s School of Medicine ranked fifth for research training and third for primary care training in the US. In fact, it was the only school that earned a spot in the top five in both categories.
UCSF is entirely dedicated to health sciences as a public research university. So, as a student undertaking their MD or MAS degree, you will have the opportunity to focus on clinical research methods and pursue independent research projects. Plus, you’ll have the opportunity to learn from the best.
UCSF boasts having 5 Nobel laureates, 101 National Academy of Medicine members, 64 American Academy of Arts and Sciences members, 51 National Academy of Sciences members and 17 Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators on its faculty. Notable alumni include paediatrician Dr Lucy Reifel, ophthalmologist Dr Thomas Tayeri, as well as the founder of Haight Ashbury Free Clinics, Dr David E Smith.
10. Imperial College London (tie)
Location: London, UK
Degree type: MBBS/BSc
Situated in the capital of the UK, the Imperial College London houses a world-renowned medical school which prides itself for its innovative teaching methods, programmes and research.
The Faculty of Medicine offers undergraduates the opportunity to earn both a BSc as well as an MBBS thanks to their dual qualification programme. This six-year degree is divided into three phases, all of which are designed to equip you with the necessary knowledge and skills to progress into the next stages of your career.
As a medical student, you will be introduced to case-based learning, encouraged to develop research skills and allowed to prepare for clinical practice. At the end of your studies, you will graduate with a primary medical qualification, which means you won’t only be eligible for provisional registration with the General Medical Council but also a licence to practise in approved Foundation Year 1 posts.
Notable alumni include award-wining general practitioner Dr Mohammed Abbas Khaki, noted neurologist and neuroimmunologist Dr Angela Vincent, as well as Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, the President of the Medical Women’s Federation.
9. Yale University
Location: New Haven, Connecticut, USA
Degree type: MD
Founded in 1810, the Yale Medical School has a long-established reputation for innovation, having performed the first X-ray and administered the first use of penicillin on US soil, as well as being the first faculty to try chemotherapy as a means of cancer treatment.
This creative approach has filtered into its teaching, too. Adopting what is known as the ‘Yale System’, students are not graded for the first two years of study and sit exams anonymously. Large lectures are also thrown out of the window, with the department instead preferring intimate seminars and tutorials. If you prefer a more independent approach to study, then this could be the school for you.
Notable alumni include noted surgeons and authors Drs Sherwin B Nuland and Lisa Sanders, and Pulitzer Prize winner and pioneer of brain surgery, Dr Harvey Cushing.
8. University College London (UCL)
Location: London, UK
Degree type: MBBS BSc
Based in central London and, therefore, with direct access to the biggest and most active trauma departments in the UK, UCL’s MBBS programme is one of the most sought-after medical courses in the UK and beyond. As one of the most prestigious universities in the country, you’ll also be surrounded by some of its brightest minds.
UCL also boasts a proud tradition of innovation and discovery; both adrenaline and the human immune system – two of the most significant advances in medical history – are credited as being discovered here. If you can meet the grade requirements, then you could represent the next instalment of scientific and clinical pioneers.
Notable alumni include the first female president of the BMA, Dr Josephine Barnes, as well as surgical pioneer Dr Hugh Owen-Thomas and noted doctor and writer Dr Ben Goldacre.
7. University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Location: Los Angeles, California, USA
Degree type: MD
Despite being named after a movie executive/record producer with seemingly little connection to the medical world, be in no doubt: the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA is one of the foremost clinical colleges in the world.
Its four-year course is split into two theoretical years, followed by two clinical years, including a whole year of rotations and placements across Los Angeles’ many busy hospitals. If you want to be close to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood in between your study breaks, then this could be the school for you.
Notable alumni include cosmetic surgeon and TV personality Dr Terry Dubrow, HIV treatement pioneer Dr David Ho and celebrity cosmetic surgeon Dr Steven Hoefflin.
5. Karolinska Institute (tie)
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Degree type: N/A
As a small, one-faculty school in the quiet suburbs of Stockholm, the Karolinska Institute may be much smaller in size than many of its counterparts on this list, but don’t let that fool you. It is widely regarded as one of the best medical schools in Europe and, since 1895, has been responsible for awarding the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine – an award that five of the institution’s own researchers have won at some point. Remarkably, for EU and EEA students, it’s also free (international students are required to pay tuition).
Notable alumni include inventor of chemical notation and discoverer of four elements (including silicon) Dr Jöns Jacob Berzelius, discover of three elements Dr Carl Gustaf Mosander, and DNA/cancer research expert and 2015 Nobel Prize winner Dr Tomas Lindahl.
5. Johns Hopkins University (tie)
Location: Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Degree type: MD
Run in partnership with the famous hospital of the same name, the Johns Hopkins University is the oldest medical research university in the US and is a name synonymous with advancements in medicine. Among its attributed achievements are the development of CPR, treatment development for sickle cell disease and the creation of the first biological pacemaker.
There are four colleges within the school and, as a result, students are encouraged to foster a competitive spirit. Indeed, this ethos is reflected throughout the campus, particularly in the notable success of the university’s lacrosse teams.
As an indication of the school’s standing, it is also often regularly referenced in popular culture; some of the fictional doctors to have ‘attended’ the University include Perry Cox (Scrubs), Gregory House (House), Julius Hibbert (The Simpsons), Preston Burke (Grey’s Anatomy) and Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs).
Notable (real-life) alumni include identifier of cystic fibrosis Dr Dorothy Andersen, noted endocrinologist Dr Fuller Albright, as well as Dr William Halstead, the inventor of the residency training system and the ‘father of modern surgery’).
4. Stanford University
Location: Palo Alto, California, USA
Degree type: MD
Although better known for its technological achievements and influence within the nearby Silicon Valley, Stanford University also has a world-renowned medicine programme. It’s also one of the most difficult colleges to get into, with an acceptance rate of just 2.3%. For the lucky few who do get in, they get to enjoy the close proximity to San Francisco and San Jose.
The school boasts eight Nobel Prize winners and a host of internationally recognised faculty members, so you’ll have a lot to live up to.
Notable alumni include NASA astronaut Scott Parazynsk, professional NFL player Milt McColl and noted surgeon, author and 2013 nominee for US Surgeon General, Dr Lori Alvord.
3. University of Cambridge
Location: Cambridge, UK
Degree type: BM, BCh
Steeped in tradition and focused on thought processes over practical learning, medical students at Cambridge focus solely on theoretical and classroom-based learning until Year 3 of the programme. When med students are eventually let loose, though, it happens to be at Addenbrooke – one of the world’s most renowned and prestigious teaching hospitals.
Pursuing a similar medical curriculum to that of its eternal rival Oxford, Cambridge does offer one unique difference: alongside the aforementioned clinical placements, students are encouraged to diversify by choosing a specialisation that is not medical in nature, such as philosophy or business.
Notable alumni include paediatrician Dr Ieuan Hughes, clinical psychologist Dr Barbara Sahakian and decorated military surgeon of the Australian Army Medical Corps, Dr Arthur Graham Butler.
2. University of Oxford
Location: Oxford, UK
Degree type: BM, BCh
Despite its reputation for excessive essay assessments and a ruthless approach to information delivery, the University of Oxford is consistently voted as one of the best medical schools in the world.
Much of the curriculum is focused on the scientific aspect of medicine, with students encouraged to work and draw conclusions from primary pieces of research. This innovative approach to teaching ensures that Oxford graduates are ready-made pioneers in their field, with the wider medical community benefitting in the long run.
Notable alumni include Dr Howard Florey (co-discover of the properties of penicillin and 1945 Nobel Prize in Medicine winner), Dr Severo Ochoa (DNA specialist and 1959 Nobel Prize in Medicine winner) and Dr Baruch Blumberg (creator of the Hepatitis B vaccine and 1976 Nobel Prize in Medicine winner).
1. Harvard University
Location: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Degree type: MD
The top spot, however, belongs to Harvard University. Its medical school is regularly at the forefront of various clinical studies and research papers, while its MD programme also offers an alternative Health Sciences and Technology pathway in collaboration with MIT. There are also numerous high-profile teaching hospitals and research institutions within close geographical vicinity, so there’s no shortage of access to brilliant minds and top-quality facilities.
Indeed, if you can meet Harvard’s stringent pre-med requirements – and if you can afford it – then you can look forward to four years of some of the finest medical instruction in the world.
Notable alumni include Dr Sidney Farber (noted oncologist/pathologist who is considered the ‘father of chemotherapy’), Dr Helen B Taussig (pioneer of paediatric cardiology and codeveloper of the Blalock-Thomas-Taussig shunt) and Dr Michael Crichton (qualified physician and creator of the Jurassic Park franchise).
Becoming a doctor isn’t for everyone; as you can see from the list, the education process can be a daunting experience in itself. But if you’re up for the challenge, and you’re looking for a premium education in the field, then it doesn’t get any better than this.
Are you surprised to see some of these schools on the list or shocked others didn’t make the cut? Join the conversation down below and let us know!
This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 16 August 2018 and was written in collaboration with staff writer Melina Theodorou.