Medical faculty members across the country, judging schools by quality of faculty and effectiveness of training, have given relatively low rankings to the three Washington area medical schools.
In a study of 94 schools conducted by two Columbia University sociologists, with money from the National Science Foundation, Georgetown ranked 39th, George Washington 65th and Howard 89th.
Johns Hopkins in Baltimore ltied with Stanford University as the No. 2 rated medical school in the nation, behind Harvard, which was top rated. The remaining top 10, beginning with fourth rated University of California at San Francisco, are Yale, Columbia, Duke, University of Michigan, Cornell and Washington University of St. Louis.
The University of Virginia Medical School at Charlottesville ranked 33rd; Virginia Medical College in Richmond, 46th; the University of Maryland in Baltimore, 58th.
Officials or professors at all three schools here called their ranking too low land expressed little confidence in the study's methods and results.
The survey's main author, Dr. Jonathan Cole of Columbia University, defended it as "the most thorough of its kind ever done," and said there was "remarkable agreement" among the professors who were asked to make the rankings.
There is probably a strong relationship between a medical school's reputation and quality and the reputaion of the medical center and hospital of which it is a part, Cole noted.
No Washington hospital or medical center has won anything like the national reputation of a Massachusetts General Hospital or Peter Bent Brigham Hospital - two of Harvard's main teaching hospitals - though some hospitals here have individual departments with outstanding reputations. Washington's Children's Hospital, a teaching hospital for George Washington University, is classed among national leaders in its field by medical authorities.
Georgetown Medical Dean John Utz acknowledged that D.C. General Hospital's recent loss of accreditation has been a problem for both the Georgetown and Howard schools, since both use it as one of their teaching sites.
George Washington medical vice president Ronald Kaufman said the Washington schools failed after World War II to take advantage of then large federal aid to build up their research and basic scientific staffs. The amount and quality of medical research were among the most important elements that influenced the national evaluators.
The evaluators - sociologists Cole and James Lipton - published their results in the sociology journal, Social Forces, in March 1977. "We didn't seek any publicity," Cole said. One of the study's first public notices was a recent news release from Johns Hopkins reporting its rating.
Cole land Lipton asked 2,049 faculty members to rate 40 schools apiece. The researchers got 583 usable responses, giving them what they consider a representative sample.
Though the professors were asked to rate schools only on faculty quality and teaching effectiveness, their ratings showed a close correlation to several other characteristics that apparently were on their minds. These included volume of research (judged by number of research papers and dollar support) and the number of famed or eminent faculty members.
"Reputations should not be equated with quality," Cole and Lipton warned, but reputation nontheless "has much to do with actual quality," they added, since top faculty and students tend to flow to schools with top reputations, and research and training grants flow to the same colleges.
Cole and Lipton also say a school's would mean that a school like Georgetown - actually tied for 39th adn 40th places with Tulane - would at the least rank with schools several places higher, like Ohio State in 34th place and the University of Alabama in 35th.
George Washington would be in the group headed by the University of Texas at Galveston (53rd) and such schools as St. Louis, Temple and Miami universities.
Among officials here taking issue with the ratings, Georgetown's Utz said "we certainly ought to be in the top 20." He said Georgetown has been consistently ranking first or second in the nation in number of applications received from aspiring students, many of them among the brightest.
Georgetown got more than 8,000 applications for 205 freshman places last fall. As a result, Utz, said, "the caliber of our students is far above averag." Georgetown freshmen scored an average 633 in scientific knowledge in the national medical college aptitude test, compared with a national average of 591.
"I would say George Washington is right in the middle" among medical schools, said George Washington's Kaufman, "and I think that's good, though we should always be better."
He said he thinks the Washington schools did not develop as research centers because they could so easily call on research scientists at the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies as part-time faculty.
"But that's been changing," he said. Since 1968 George Washington has increased the number of full-time faculty in basic and clinical (patient care) sciences from 40 to 200, and its sponsored research budget, mainly federal dollars, has risen from less than $5 million to $11 million since 1970.
Georgetown got $23.4 million in U.S. medical research dollars last year. Howard got only $5 million. These schools get little research support from nonfederal sources.
In contrast, Harvard got $34 million in total research funds, $8 million of it from private foundations and donors, $26 million of it federal.
Utz and Kaufman spoke, too, of what both called the serious general under-financing of their privately owned schools, in contrast with the bulk of medical schools, which (like a Harvard) have rich endowments or (like a University of Michigan or California) get large state subsidies for every student.
George Washington and Georgetown last year got what they agreed would be their last per capita student aid from Congress as a substitute for stae aid. They have been raising their tuitions to record levels to try to make up the difference. Georgetown's current $12,500 annual fee for incoming freshmen is the nation's highest. George Washington freshman tuition next fall will be $11,800.
Georgetown Medical School has a total annual budget of $29 million; George Washington, $22 million, and Howard, $16 million, according to finance officers. The budget of Howard Hospital, which also is involved in medical training, is another $48 million.
Harvard's medical school budget alone last year was $50.6 million.
Neither Howard health affairs vice president Dr. Carlton Alexis nor medical dean Dr. Marion Mann would comment on Howard's rating.
Many Howard faculty members have said in recent years that the school - in the day of segregation, the elite center for black faculty and students in many disciplines - now must compete for faculty and students with the Harvards. Now the best blacks can go to almost any school they please.
"A bright black premed student is more eagerly sought than a black quaterback by many colleges," said a medical professor at another college.
One prominent Howard professor - Dr. Jack E. White, head of Howard's Cancer Research Center - said "this is a period of development for Howard." with "lots of new and interesting things happening" and "numerous new, young faculty being recruited in many fields."
He spoke of Howard's outstanding sickle cell disease center "known all over the world" and "our rapidly developing cancer center by the National Cancer Institute.
"If a survey were taken today, our rating would probably be upgraded," White said.
Kaufman said,"I don't think ratings llike these are valid criteria for evaluating medical centers. They're really asking the wrong people to do the rating. They should be asking practitioners of medicine. And they should be asking consumers where they go to seek medical care.
"Ratings like these are based too much on people's reputations as scientists rather than on the reputation of the institution in delivering high quality health services to its community."
Prof. Cole said he did not think an evaluation based on practicing doctors' ratings "would come out very different."