Should PA Programs Participate in the U.S. News and World Report Rankings?
Since late 2022, when the Yale Law School announced its decision to not participate in the U.S. News & World Report (USN&WR) law school rankings, an increasing number of law and medical schools have followed suit in withdrawing from this popular national survey.
To date, at least 14 other medical schools – including more than half of those that are currently ranked in the top 10 by USN&WR – have chosen to not participate in the ranking survey1. The dean of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences described participation in the USN&WR survey as a “disservice to medical school applicants” that gives an imprimatur of legitimacy to the misleading data and flawed process1. Historically Black colleges and universities – Meharry Medical College and the Morehouse School of Medicine – have chosen not to participate in the USN&WR Survey believing the survey to promote elitist and biased practices1.
A recent critique of USN&WR medical school rankings found that they are ill-conceived; are unscientific; are conducted poorly; ignore medical school accreditation; judge medical school quality from a narrow, elitist perspective; and do not consider social and professional outcomes in program quality calculations. Such harsh criticism comes from an expert in medical education who has examined the methods used to rank medical schools by the USN&WR and found them to be seriously flawed2.
American institutions of higher education that sponsor PA educational programs have long participated in the USN&WR ranking surveys. Given the recent attention given to the methodology used in the rankings, the question arises: Should PA programs continue their participation in the USN&WR ranking survey knowing that the methods used are deeply flawed?
More than 20 years ago, a group of leading PA educators and researchers examined the issue of ranking PA programs by USN&WR which began in the mid-1990s. The survey identified 95 of 126 PA program directors and asked directors to name the characteristics of program performance that would best objectify reputations. The most notable result was the lack of agreement on what PA program attributes should be measured.
The specific points of greatest agreement were faculty-to-student ratio, graduation rate, student attrition rate, and Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) scores. Respondents concluded that in spite of the human need to compare and contrast, there was little agreement among PA program directors on the elements that should be used for a program ranking3.
It is possible that, were this survey to be repeated in 2023, the results would reveal similar views on the question of what constitutes a “good” PA program.
A key question in this discussion is, “What constitutes appropriate and meaningful criteria and measures that could be used to rank medical education programs?” It has been suggested that criteria such as the attainment of stated school/program mission and goals, applicant selection factors, national test scores and GPA ranges of accepted students, matriculant demographics and indicators of an institution’s contributions to address the health care priority needs of the nation may be better indicators of a school/program performance2.
As this trend among U.S. professional schools appears to be gaining momentum, it seems wise for PA education to closely monitor this trend and to promote further dialogue on this topic in medical education.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of PAEA.
- Humphrey H.J., Levinson D, Carter K. Medical School Rankings—Bad for the Health of the Profession and the Public. JAMA. Published online March 23, 2023. doi:10.1001/jama.2023.2815
- McGaghie, W.C. America’s best medical schools: a renewed critique of the US News & World Report rankings. Acad Med. 2019;94(9):1264-1266. doi:10.1097/ACM.0000000000002742
- Blessing, J.D., Hooker, R.S., Jones, P.E., Rahrs, R. An Investigation of Potential Criteria for Ranking Physician Assistant Programs. Perspectives on Physician Assistant Education 2001. 12:160-166.