Purpose: Medical school Web sites often advance arguments to claim institutional excellence and appeal to the "best and the brightest" who might join their institutions as medical students. What do these texts communicate about institutional excellence, or the excellence of potential applicants to medical school? How are discourses related to social accountability, such as those concerning diversity and equity, represented?
Method: From July through December 2010, using the concepts of excellence, equity, and diversity, the authors examined the discourses identified on the Web sites of Canada's 17 medical schools, focusing on faculty welcome pages, deans' messages, and those pages specifically targeting applicants to medicine.
Results: Institutional prestige and applicant suitability were generally promoted through discourses of academic excellence such as research, innovation, and global positioning. Service-to-society discourses were much less prominent. Diversity discourses emerged primarily as appeals to institutions' cosmopolitan sophistication. Equity, when mentioned, tended to focus on increasing the participation of indigenous and rural students in medicine. Institutional positioning can be situated on a continuum from the more "centric" (typical academic excellence claims) to the more "eccentric" (excellence claims grounded in local contexts such as service to a region or constituency).
Conclusions: Discourses can play a central role in regulating social institutional practices. It is worthwhile for medical schools to examine the messages that medical schools are communicating on their Web sites. If schools are to move beyond prestige-based characterizations of excellence and build a socially accountable profession, open and inclusive discussions are needed.