(Almost) No One Cares Where You Went to School

Every year, tens of thousands of high school, college, and professional school students wait anxiously to get their acceptance letters to the school of their choice or to match to their desired training program. Months of preparation, interviews, cross-country trips, exams, and it all comes down to a single email or letter.

Finally, the big day arrives, and every student’s hand trembles as they open that correspondence to experience the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat. Many of these students have no acceptances and have to wait for the next application cycle to try their luck again. There’s a second group of students that experience disappointment, namely, the ones who got into ONE of their schools but didn’t get into the “BEST” school.

In health care professions, we tend to be hyper-competitive and driven to excel. Those are good qualities because they push us to be the best versions of ourselves, but if we’re not careful those attributes can be our downfall.

No one cares where you went to school?  Don’t you need to go to a good school?

All too often, students fret about getting into the “best school.” They think, “I couldn’t get into Harvard or Yale. I’m stuck going to (insert state university name).” What they should concern themselves with more than getting into the “best” school is getting into the school that is best for THEM.

I went to a public university and a public medical school. Looking at national rankings like U.S. News and World Report might suggest that I attended average state schools with average educational options yielding mediocre students.

I’m here to tell you that I got sensational education at each stage of my training, despite not going to an Ivy League school.

I spent too long regretting not attending “prestige” schools, until I spent time rotating at some of those elite training programs, and I realized they weren’t offering any training or educational opportunities that I wasn’t already getting.

Eventually, I saw that I could more than hold my own against the best students and trainees those schools had to offer, so why did I care so much that my diploma wasn’t from a top 25 school? I decided it was time to quit caring about where I didn’t go to school and recognize that I could take advantage of amazing training opportunities right in front of me.

Don’t patients care where you when to school?

Think about all of the physicians that have taken care of you or your family. For how many of them do you know their alma mater? I’ll bet it’s almost none of them. Even the ones you know are more likely to have told you as part of a conversation after you got to know them as a person, long after trusting them as a physician.

When I get called in the middle of the night to stop someone from bleeding to death from a stomach ulcer, I’ve never had a patient say, “Now, wait a second, tell me where you got your degree. It wasn’t some public state school, right?” They only want to know if I can help them.

Your patients genuinely don’t care where you went to school,
as long as you can help them take care of their health concerns.

They may ask you as you continue to develop your doctor-patient relationship, but it just doesn’t come up as an issue of competence.

Ok, but I want to get a good job after I graduate…

For the most part, employers don’t really care where you went to school. There are a few notable exceptions, such as attending a non-accredited school. They may also take an interest if you attended a school and trained in a very specific field or very specialized research program that is specifically applicable to a unique subset of the academic world, but that’s a tiny percentage of the cases.

In fact, I’ve talked with medical school professors in the past who have told me that they were nervous to consider applicants from elite Ivy League schools because applicants from those schools were less likely than the average public school graduate to be able to function as a competent physician.

One professor reported that the “elite” applicants aced their MCAT and Step exams, but they couldn’t take a decent history or formulate a differential diagnosis, much less talk to a patient like a human being. I don’t mean this to paint all graduates from elite schools or public schools with a generic brush, but I do hope to illustrate the point that employers and admissions committees aren’t as concerned with your alma mater as you might think.

Employees REALLY don’t care where you went to school, unless it’s by way of establishing a rapport because you went to the same school, or by way of having a friendly rivalry with competing schools. Your team members want you to treat them with respect, pay them what they’re worth, and recognize their achievements. They don’t notice your diplomas on the wall. I’ve never personally had mine hanging on my office or exam room wall.

So, your patients don’t care, your future employers don’t care, and your future employees don’t care.

So, who cares?

And why should they care?

What really matters?

I contend that your alma mater should matter a lot less to them than your competence, your affability, and your skill level, all of which are infinitely more dependent on the individual than the institution.

Don’t buy into the lie that the degree makes the doctor who they are. You are not less qualified to be a doctor because you didn’t go to some elite school. Your value to your patients has nothing to do with the price tag of your education. Believe it or not, the pharmacology, biochemistry, and anatomy classes they teach at elite private schools contain the same information as at every other university in the country.

Stop worrying about getting accepted to elite institutions. Stop doubting yourself if you think you should have gotten into a better school and had to “settle.” You can get a fabulous training experience wherever you go to school.

If you went to an elite school, good for you! There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Just don’t get sucked into believing that the degree is worth more than the education.

Wrap Up

The quality of your education and training depends on YOU, not your university or training program. Every school has opportunities for education and advancement if you’ll seek them out. You can get a phenomenal education at whatever school you attend. Be aggressive about seeking those learning opportunities. Don’t sell yourself short! Your education is what you make it, so make it good!

Leave a comment below and tell what you appreciate most about the school you went to. What advice would you give to the students that are applying to college, medical school, and post-graduate training?

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