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The social mission of medical education: ranking the schools

Mullan F; Chen C; Petterson S; Kolsky G; and Spagnola M

BACKGROUND: The basic purpose of medical schools is to educate physicians to care for the national population. Fulfilling this goal requires an adequate number of primary care physicians, adequate distribution of physicians to underserved areas, and a sufficient number of minority physicians in the workforce. OBJECTIVE: To develop a metric called the social mission score to evaluate medical school output in these 3 dimensions. DESIGN: Secondary analysis of data from the American Medical Association (AMA) Physician Masterfile and of data on race and ethnicity in medical schools from the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Association of American Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine. SETTING: U.S. medical schools. PARTICIPANTS: 60,043 physicians in active practice who graduated from medical school between 1999 and 2001. MEASUREMENTS: The percentage of graduates who practice primary care, work in health professional shortage areas, and are underrepresented minorities, combined into a composite social mission score. RESULTS: The contribution of medical schools to the social mission of medical education varied substantially. Three historically black colleges had the highest social mission rankings. Public and community-based medical schools had higher social mission scores than private and non-community-based schools. National Institutes of Health funding was inversely associated with social mission scores. Medical schools in the northeastern United States and in more urban areas were less likely to produce primary care physicians and physicians who practice in underserved areas. LIMITATIONS: The AMA Physician Masterfile has limitations, including specialty self-designation by physicians, inconsistencies in reporting work addresses, and delays in information updates. The public good provided by medical schools may include contributions not reflected in the social mission score. The study was not designed to evaluate quality of care provided by medical school graduates. CONCLUSION: Medical schools vary substantially in their contribution to the social mission of medical education. School rankings based on the social mission score differ from those that use research funding and subjective assessments of school reputation. These findings suggest that initiatives at the medical school level could increase the proportion of physicians who practice primary care, work in underserved areas, and are underrepresented minorities.

Mullan F, Chen C, Petterson S, Kolsky G, Spagnola M. The social mission of medical education: ranking the schools. Ann Intern Med. 2010 Jun 15;152(12):804-11.

June 2010