Education and Skills

These are the world’s top medical schools in 2021

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The listings include 650 of the world’s top medical schools. Image: REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

Douglas Broom
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  • The US and the UK continue to dominate the list of the world’s best medical schools.
  • The top five are Harvard, Oxford, Stanford, Cambridge and Johns Hopkins universities.
  • Meanwhile, the World Health Organization warns of a shortfall of 18 million healthcare workers by 2030 if action isn’t taken.

The latest rankings of the world’s top medical schools are again dominated by the United States and the UK, with Harvard listed number one for the sixth successive year.

Oxford, Stanford, Cambridge and Johns Hopkins universities complete the top five in the QS World University Rankings, followed by Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet, the University of California, Los Angeles, Yale, University College London and, at number 10, Imperial College London.

These are the world's top medical schools
Harvard University has come top for the sixth year in a row. Image: Quacquarelli Symonds

Harvard owes its top spot to perfect academic and employer reputation scores, with an overall total of 98.9%.

The listings include 650 of the world’s top medical schools, with 50 institutions joining for the first time this year. The biggest single group are the 233 med schools to be found in Europe, including 44 from the UK, 32 from Germany, 29 from Italy, and 17 each from France and Spain.

a picture of surgeons operating
50 medical schools joined the global list for the first time this year. Image: Pixabay/sasint

The table also lists 121 US medical schools, 134 from Asia, 46 from Latin America, 27 from the Middle East and 23 from Africa. Australia contributes 26 to the list, New Zealand has three with Auckland University of Technology entering for the first time.

In Asia, Japan has 34 med schools in the rankings, China 28 and South Korea 23. Nine of India’s top medical schools are included this year and Malaysia contributes eight.

On the up

The QS rankings highlight the performance of Africa in training doctors. They show Egypt is now home to nine of the world’s best medical schools, including three new entries, and the University of Cape Town’s medical school is ranked 87th in the world.

Iran increased its presence in the table, adding two institutions – Mashhad University of Medical Science and Shahid Beheshti University Tehran – to the world rankings. Saudi Arabia’s King AbdulAziz University is ranked the best medical school in the Middle East (joint 142nd).

The QS World University Rankings are based on four criteria: academic reputation; the institution’s reputation with employers; research citations; and what is known as the H-index. Scores for the first category are derived from QS’s survey of over 100,000 academics worldwide.

More than 50,000 global employers were asked to list 10 domestic and 30 international institutions they consider an excellent source of graduates. By identifying which disciplines they recruit, it is possible to give a rating for each university department.

Research reputation is derived from the number of times an institution’s work is cited in academic papers. The H-index counts the number of peer-reviewed articles a university’s academics have produced and how they have been applied in their field of study.

More doctors please

Doctors have borne the brunt of COVID-19 and its effects on health spending. In India, over 80% of newly qualified doctors in Kerala quit last September in protest after their pay was reduced.

Countries like the UK, which have relied heavily on overseas-qualified doctors, have also been hit by staff shortages caused by COVID-19 travel restrictions. A report last year found that over a third of UK doctors (37%) had qualified in another country.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says there will be a shortfall of 18 million healthcare workers by 2030. WHO’s global medical workforce strategy for 2030 says the world will need almost 2.6 million more doctors and over nine million more qualified nurses and midwives.

WHO has designated 2021 the International Year of Health and Care Workers to highlight the issue and give public recognition to the role played by medical professionals in fighting the pandemic.

It says the impact of continuing shortages of healthcare workers will be greatest in middle- and low-income countries which are already the most affected by the migration of qualified medical professionals to richer nations.

The solution is not just to improve recruitment of training of medical staff but also to ensure they have decent pay and working conditions, WHO adds. Globally, between 20-40% of all health spending is wasted due to inefficiency and poor governance, according to WHO figures.

The World Economic Forum’s Platform for Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare is supporting efforts to transform healthcare by moving away from the current capital intensive hospital-based system to improve disease prevention and deliver personalized care to patients.


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