Where To Study Medicine?

University Rankings And Prestige:
How Much Do They Really Matter For Studying Medicine?

Is studying medicine at Melbourne University more prestigious than studying at Monash University? Is studying medicine at University of Sydney more prestigious than studying at University of New South Wales (UNSW)? In the end, does it really matter?

When selecting the university with the right medicine course for you, we would suggest that there are other factors to consider that are more important than university rank and prestige.

Prestige, prestige, prestige. It’s a word often heard echoing from the halls of the oldest universities and perpetuated by certain people who may state: ‘my son will only obtain his the degree from The University of…’

When selecting your preferred university for medicine, we would suggest that there are factors to consider other than university rank and prestige. Unlike other professional practice areas such as law, the number of medical graduates is controlled by the government. Thus a career in medicine offers a safe and guaranteed job because the need and demand for medical professionals is always there. This is reflected in the success of medical graduates finding jobs after completing university. The Good Universities Guide states that virtually all Monash University medicine graduates find work within a year of completing their undergraduate medical degree. Once you graduate, you will obtain an Australian Medical Board licence to practice irrespective of which university you graduate from.

Furthermore, it is important to understand that while a university as a whole may hold certain prestige, medical courses differ in how they are viewed. A university that may not have the ‘best’ reputation may have a medical course that is considered outstanding. This is particularly the case for the ‘newer’ universities (eg. Monash University) who have adopted novel, practical and successful teaching methods compared to ‘older’ universities.

The vast majority of university rankings are based on the research output of the university. They do not tell you which universities produce graduates with the greatest success in the medical field.

What are university rankings based on, anyway?

The vast majority of university rankings are based on the research output of the university. This involves: the number of PhDs obtained by academics at that university, the journals in which those academic papers are published, and the number of times such papers are cited by other academics and journals. University rankings do not tell you which universities produce graduates who have the greatest success in the medical field or who specialise in those more prestigious areas of medicine (such as Dermatology, Ophthalmology, Surgery and specialist Physician training).

Older universities tend to maintain their higher rankings despite a steady decrease in their entrance scores or changes to the structure of the medicine courses offered. Furthermore, older universities will have more connections with older generations of professors and academics. These individuals would have attended university at a time when universities such as Monash or UWS did not exist or were just beginning to offer relevant medical and health science courses, and so may not recommend such courses.

Most university rankings also do not take into account to a great extent other factors such as student life on campus.

So what is the best way to rank medicine courses offered by different universities?

It is almost impossible to come up with a sound ranking system for universities because the notion of what is the ‘best’ university is highly subjective. Perhaps the most effective way to judge a university is by its popularity which can be determined by several factors:

  • Is the required entrance score or other entry requirements consistently increasing?
    • If the answer is yes, then it’s fair to say that the university’s popularity is also steadily increasing.
    • If the answer is no, then ask yourself why: it may be because the university has increased the number of medical places available and thus ‘diluted’ the entry requirements, or more likely, the popularity of that university’s medical course and medical pathway is in decline.
  • What is the retention rate? Good universities should not have an attrition rate of more than 10%.
  • How many students from that course go on to practice medicine in highly sought after specialties? University websites and some other independent websites will provide such statistics.

It doesn’t matter if it takes you an hour or more to drive to Monash or UNSW, because overall you will save more time than taking the graduate medical entry pathway at Melbourne Uni or USyd

Is location important?

In an ideal world, we would all be able to walk to university or work in less than five minutes. The reality of the situation is that in most instances you will have to travel some distance to your desired university.

Many students who face the dilemma of choosing to study medicine at Monash or Melbourne, or USyd or UNSW may consider the graduate entry pathway simply because USyd or Melbourne are located more conveniently. However, even if it takes you an hour or more to drive to Monash or UNSW, overall you will save far more time than taking the graduate medical entry pathway.

Furthermore, unlike other degrees, in medicine you will usually only be on campus for the first couple of years. Subsequent years will be in hospital placements which can be situated anywhere in your state. You will usually be able to put in your preferences for where your placement will be, and you can choose one which is closer to home.

Further things to consider

Simply attending a so-called prestigious university will not guarantee a top-tier job in your desired field of medicine. When looking at applicants, assessors will consider a number of factors – references, resume, previous work experience, performance in an interview and grades received at university. The actual medical school you attended is far less important (and usually not even part of the selection criteria).

The content of medical courses between universities will not differ greatly, although the style of teaching may

Which is the ‘better’ course?

A broken arm is a broken arm no matter which state of Australia you live in or which university you attend. Being qualified to practice medicine means you can practice throughout Australia. This is unlike some other professions, such as law, where the qualifications will only be valid on a state to state basis. Furthermore, the study of medicine focuses on the application of proven, objective medical knowledge to a patient problem. All doctors throughout Australia are required to follow the same set of standards and guidelines set out by Colleges and the Medical Board of Australia. Therefore, the content of medical courses between universities will not differ greatly, although the style of teaching may.

Factors to consider other than a university’s rank

We strongly suggest you consider factors other than university rank and prestige when deciding which medicine course is best for you.

For example, consider the following:

  • Will you be able to study what you want to do straight away, rather than having to wait until your postgraduate degree is completed?
  • The added cost of pursing a graduate degree – including additional years of study and the fact that universities can (and do) charge more
  • Will you be able to get a taste for what medicine is really like early on (undergraduate courses) so you know if it is the right course for you?
  • Will you be guaranteed a place in your desired medical school (undergraduate courses) with no uncertainty and stress?
  • Student wellbeing and welfare
  • Student success post-university
  • Student opportunities within your course (eg. overseas placements) and extracurricular activities
  • Quality of teaching staff
  • Style of teaching
  • Social opportunities (eg. clubs)

An important factor outlined above is that if you choose an undergraduate degree, you will be able to start studying what you truly want to study straight away. Having just finished an extremely stressful final year of high school the last thing you want is have to continue studying hard in order to maintain a GPA or WAM (Weighted Average Mark) high enough to gain entry into post-graduate medicine. There is also the additional stress of having to prepare for and sit the GAMSAT. The GAMSAT is a six hour test that also includes knowledge based and essay writing components as well as interviews.

In summary, if studying medicine is really what you want to do, then you should aim to get out into the field and begin helping others sooner rather than later.