Top Medical Schools in California

A medical school anatomy class.
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California is home to over 700 colleges and universities, of which nearly half are for-profit institutions. As shown here, it is also the first state to have a for-profit medical school that awards an M.D. degree. Statewide, only 12 California universities have medical schools offering Doctor of Medicine programs. Half of these schools are public and half are private. A few of the schools rank among the best medical schools in the United States.

Medical students can expect to spend four years earning their M.D. followed by another three or more years of residency before being able to practice independently as a physician.

California Northstate University College of Medicine

Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Carmichael, California
Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Carmichael, California.

 ray_explores / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Opened in 2015, the California Northstate University College of Medicine is the United State's first for-profit medical school to offer a Doctor of Medicine degree. One of the college's stated goals is to address the shortage of physicians in Northern California. The university offers a rather traditional approach to medical study, with two years of study in the classroom followed by two years centered on clinical rotations at area hospitals and other healthcare providers.

The university has affiliations with Dignity Health System and Kaiser Permanente of Northern California to support clinical experiences. Affiliated hospitals include Mercy San Juan Medical Center, Heritage Oaks Hospital, Kaiser Permanente Hospital, and Methodist Hospital of Sacramento.

California University of Science and Medicine

The Arrowhead Regional Medical Center
The Arrowhead Regional Medical Center.

Ruthho use / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

California's youngest medical school, the California University of Science and Medicine enrolled its first class of 64 in 2018, and the school is planning for a maximum total enrollment of 480. Located in San Bernardino, the school has received preliminary accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education. Construction of the campus is planned for completion in 2020.

CUSM works in collaboration with the Arrowhead Regional Medical Center for research and clinical experiences. ARMC is located in Colton, California, about five miles from campus.

Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science

Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science
President and CEO of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, David Carlisle speaks onstage at the Venice Family Clinic Silver Circle Gala 2017.

 Matt Winkelmeyer / Getty Images

Founded in 1966, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science is a historically Black medical university dedicated to providing services to underserved communities in South Los Angeles and beyond. The school ran into problems in 2009 when it was placed on probation for failing to meet accrediting standards. These issues were resolved in 2011.

The College of Medicine has affiliations with institutions including Kedren Community Health Center, Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, and Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. The school has graduated 575 physicians in its five decades of operation.

University of Southern California

The USC Norris Cancer Center
The USC Norris Cancer Center.

 Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

USC's Keck School of Medicine, established in 1885, is located on a 79-acre campus about seven miles northeast of the main campus of the University of Southern California. The school is home to 1,200 students, 900 residents, and 1,500 full-time faculty. More than 5,000 graduates of the school practice medicine in Southern California. The school brings in $230 million in sponsored research.

The school is made up of 24 research-focused science and clinical departments as well as 7 research institutes such as the Alzheimer's Therapeutic Research Institute, the Diabetes & Obesity Research Institute, and the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Loma Linda University

Loma Linda University Hospital
Loma Linda University Hospital.

 dalinghome / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Founded in 1909 as the College of Medical Evangelists, the Loma Linda University School of Medicine retains its Christian identity today. The school works to combine medical science with Christian service.

Much of the Loma Linda curriculum follows a standard model of two years of classroom study followed by two years of clinical rotations. Many students participate in two popular programs as well: Social Action Community Health System and Students for International Mission Service. Both programs are designed to bring medical assistance to low income and underserved populations.

Stanford University

Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge, Stanford University School of Medicine
Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge, Stanford University School of Medicine.

 LPS.1 / Wikimedia Commons /  CC0 1.0

Stanford University's School of Medicine frequently finds itself in U.S. News & World Report's list of the nation's top 10 medical schools. The school recently ranked #3 for research in part because Stanford brings in more NIH funding per researcher of any other school in the country. The school also ranks highly for specialties including pediatrics, psychiatry, radiology, anesthesiology, and surgery.

The university is home to many accomplished faculty members, and the School of Medicine has 7 Nobel Prize winners and 37 members of the National Academy of Sciences on its faculty.

University of California Davis

The UC Davis Medical Center
The UC Davis Medical Center.

Coolcaesar / Wikimedia Commons /  CC BY-SA 3.0

The UC Davis School of Medicine recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. The school does well in national rankings and sometimes breaks into the U.S. News top 10 for primary care training. The UC Davis Medical Center—the primary teaching hospital for the school—is located adjacent to classrooms, making it easy for clinical practice and classroom learning to work hand-in-hand. Students also gain hands-on experiences at community health clinics in the surrounding area.

Students can enhance their Doctor of Medicine by participating in one of the school's dual degree programs: M.D./Ph.D. or M.D./M.P.H. They can also receive training and certificates in areas such as stem cells, clinical laboratory science, and mentored clinical research.

University of California Irvine

McGaugh Hall at UC Irvine
McGaugh Hall at UC Irvine. Photo Credit: Marisa Benjamin

The UCI School of Medicine has been around in various forms since the 19th century, and today it ranks among the top 50 medical schools for research in U.S. News. Each year, the school is home to over 400 medical students and 700 residents. Students study within the school's 26 specialized departments, and they gain clinical experience at local healthcare providers including the VA Long Beach Healthcare System and Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. The UC Irvine Medical Center is the school's principal clinical facility.

Along with the Doctor of Medicine degree, students can work towards a dual degree that combines the M.D. with a Ph.D., master's of public health, M.B.A., or master's in genetic counseling.

University of California Los Angeles

UCLA Medical Center
UCLA Medical Center.

 David McNew / Getty Images

UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine is one of the best medical schools in the nation, and it frequently appears in the U.S. News top 10 for both research and primary care training. With a 4 to 1 faculty to student ratio, medical students will find plenty of mentorship to help them on the way to becoming practicing physicians.

For students serious about research, the combined M.D./Ph.D. program might be of interest, and for those who want to go into medical management, UCLA offers a joint M.D./M.B.A program through collaboration with the highly regarded Anderson School of Management.

University of California Riverside

University of California Riverside
University of California Riverside.

Amerique / Wikimedia Commons /  CC BY-SA 3.0

A young school, UC Riverside School of Medicine enrolled its first class of 50 students in 2013. The school gained full accreditation one day before that inaugural class graduated.

The School of Medicine is located in several buildings on the west side of the UC Riverside campus. Facilities include the School of Medicine Education building with its medical simulation laboratory and 10 patient examination rooms. Some of the research facilities used by the School of Medicine are shared with other departments such as chemistry, life sciences, and engineering.

University of California San Diego

UCSD Medical Center
UCSD Medical Center.

 Coolcaesar / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

The UC San Diego School of Medicine is one of the most selective medical schools in the country with an acceptance rate below 4%. Of about 8,000 applicants each year, 134 are accepted. The school consistently ranks among the top 20 for primary care training and research. The school is home to over 2,300 students, postdoctoral students, residents, and fellows, as well as over 1,500 faculty members.

Like most top medical schools, UCSD offers a range of joint M.D./Ph.D. programs as well as several options for combining an M.D. with a master's degree. Facilities linked to the school of medicine include the UC San Diego Medical Center, Jacobs Medical Center, Moores Cancer Center, and Sulpizio Cardiovascular Center.

University of California San Francisco

University of California San Francisco

 Tamsmith585 / iStock / Getty Images

The University of California San Francisco is the only one of the UC campuses to have no undergraduate programs. The UCSF School of Medicine is a top-ranked medical school, and several of its specialties made it into the top 3 in U.S. News rankings: radiology, anesthesiology, obstetrics/gynecology, and internal medicine. Other areas such as pediatrics, psychiatry, family medicine, and surgery also rank highly.

The school enrolls roughly 150 students each year, and they can find clinical and residency opportunities at numerous health facilities including the school's eight sites in the San Francisco Bay and Fresno areas.

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Grove, Allen. "Top Medical Schools in California." ThoughtCo, Dec. 20, 2020, Grove, Allen. (2020, December 20). Top Medical Schools in California. Retrieved from Grove, Allen. "Top Medical Schools in California." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).