UPDATED: University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine on thin ice

Last year, inspectors discovered 10 areas of weakness that the College of Medicine now must resolve to avoid probation.

The College of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan has been told to clamp down and rectify a handful of internal protocols or it will risk losing its status as an accredited medical school.

In a letter to Dean William Albritton, the Committee on the Accreditation of Canadian Medical Schools and the American Liaison Committee on Medical Education wrote that a team of inspectors identified 10 weaknesses that would result in probation if not resolved in 10 to 15 months. The inspectors had been dispatched to the U of S three months earlier.

“There are areas of non-compliance that will, if not corrected promptly, seriously compromise the ability of the faculty to deliver a quality medical education program,” wrote the CACMS and the LCME, who work together to standardize and accredit medical schools throughout Canada and the United States.

The areas of weakness include how teaching duties are assigned, how clinical rotations are monitored, the timeframe in which students receive grades and inadequate study space at the U of S College of Medicine campus in Regina.

The letter went on to say that the warning of probation would not be published and the college was not required to inform the student body. However, medical students and faculty were notified about the situation by email in July, said Albritton.

Brett Fairbairn, U of S provost and vice-president academic, released a statement “to clarify the college is fully accredited and will remain so.”

“Accreditation is an ongoing discussion between the college and the accrediting bodies, and the college remains accredited while it works on outstanding items. This is a usual process for medical colleges,” said Fairbairn’s March 22 release.

If the College of Medicine does not resolve the areas of weakness by early 2013, the school will risk being put on probation. Once on probation, the college will remain accredited for at least 18 addition months, while working on resolving the deficiencies.

The 10 standards that need work relate primarily to matters of academic administration and are not issues of health and safety, he said.

“While these are not trivial matters and in some cases a great deal of work will be required, the university is on track with its plan to ensure compliance, and will do whatever is necessary to ensure continuing full accreditation for the program,” Fairbairn wrote.

In December, the college submitted a plan of action to the accreditors that was accepted, and their team is expected back at the U of S in February 2013.

A failure to resolve the standards in question by next year would result in the college being placed on probation, and at risk of losing accreditation. Students graduating from a non-accredited medical school would not be able to receive the residency training that is required to obtain a license to practice.

“We have to fix this,” he said. “It will be a challenge to get it done that quickly because it requires a significant conversation within the college and a significant conversation with the university. But it’s important enough that I think it will be done.”

This is not the first time the college has been in hot water with accreditors. It was on put probation from 2002 to 2006.

An antiquated library, insufficient classrooms and a shortage of faculty members were the weaknesses cited a decade ago, said Albritton.

“Back in 2002, we were the first in a series of schools to be put on probation,” he said. “We worked through that, but accreditation has become very onerous.”

Albritton, who was born in rural Alabama, speaks casually with a distinct southern twang. Although he received a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Tennessee, he feels Canadian medical schools are burdened by being anchored to the United States.

Canada has 17 accredited medical schools, compared to more than 150 south of the border. According to Albritton, that leaves Canada with little influence over the applied standards.

And being anchored to America does not benefit students after graduation either.

He said in his 10 years as dean, there has not been a single medical student from the U of S that has left Canada for residency in the United States.

“Canada’s medical education is probably the best in the world, and yet we are tied to a U.S. standard. If we had our own standards, we could be world leaders.”

Melissa Andersen, president of the Student Medical Society of Saskatchewan, said the college has been transparent and helpful with any concerns that students have had throughout the accreditation process.

“It was addressed right from the get-go, and we have been significantly involved with putting together the action plan,” Andersen said.

She said each month the dean hosts a lunch with students and updates them on any notable systemic changes.

Andersen said that throughout her time with the student society, she has had the chance to meet hundreds of medical students and professionals from across Canada. She admits the U of S medical school is small, but said that has its advantages.

“Saskatchewan students are known for having really high clinical skills. We’re introduced to clinical situations a lot earlier than other schools are. So I think the quality of education has been really good,” she said.

Correction 16/4/12: on March 29, 2012, the Sheaf reported that William Albritton, current dean of the College of Medicine, said that students would be unable to graduate and operations would be severely affected if the college does not resolve the areas of weakness in question by next year.

That was inaccurate and we apologize for the error.

If the College of Medicine does not resolve the areas of weakness by early 2013, the school will risk being put on probation. Once on probation, the college will remain accredited for at least 18 addition months, while working on resolving the deficiencies.

The operations of the college will be affected only if accreditation is formally withdrawn by the accrediting bodies. Removing accreditation from a medical school is rare and done only if deficiencies persist after probation.

On April 11, the College of Medicine announced the release of a long-term concept plan that aims to restructure the inner workings of the college.

Photo: Raisa Pezderic/The Sheaf

  • Interested in Medicine

    Great article, very informative. I’d be interested to read more about the anchoring of Canadian schools to those in the states.

  • Anonymous

    What’s with the picture attached to this article? It has nothing to do with medical students… Analytical chem or research, sure. Clinical medicine that medical students take part in, no.

    • http://www.facebook.com/brynton Bryn Becker

      Maybe it’s because the dude in the picture is going to need some serious medical help after being exposed to all the asbestos in the pipes behind him.

  • A Med Student

    Yet another sensationalized story. Is it too much to ask for facts?

    “The College of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan has been told to clamp down … or it will lose its status as an accredited medical school.”

    “A failure to resolve the standards in question by next year would leave students unable to graduate and would cripple operations, said Albritton.”

    Both these statements are false. Just absolutely false–especially the last one. Failure to resolve the issues in 10-15 months would mean that the college is put on probation. Probation does not equal losing accreditation. That happens later, when a medical school fails to resolve serious issues. Probation doesn’t mean that the College can’t graduate students–that’s just ridiculous. How do you think they graduated students when they were on probation in 2002-2006?

    I’m a medical student, and I’m extremely confident in the ability of our college to fix the problems at hand. Having experienced both undergraduate and medical education at the UofS, I can assure you that the quality of education at the CoM far exceeds anything else I’ve experienced in undergrad. If all postsecondary education was regulated and accredited by the same tough standards, many UofS departments would be on probation.

    Don’t get me wrong, the CoM has some growing pains that need to be resolved. There are student concerns that need to be addressed. You know, just like any other school. But at the end of the day, all of the negative (and incorrect) media attention that we’ve been getting is going to hurt our reputation far more than this warning of probation, which isn’t even considered an “adverse action” by the regulatory body. Cue irritated med students.

    • Follow up

      It’s been ten days. Why hasn’t anyone corrected this article? It’s one thing to print false information, but I can forgive a mistake. Can’t forgive the lack of follow up. Frankly, we deserve an apology.

  • Alumni

    The U of S has had a sub par medical school for years.

    It finally got off real probation, just to learn, that a decade of two-faced Albritton later, and they may be back on probation.

    A Med Student “growing pains”? Cause these problems existed back at 60 students
    Maybe “growing pains” are part of the problem, didn’t medical students vote against expanding to 100 students, only to be ignored by the administration (kind of the theme there eh?)?

    How about the lack of evening study space?
    You know that 4 th floor RUH USED to be open 24 hours a day, a decade ago, but was deemed insufficient by students on previous accreditation surveys. However, the college used 4 th floor RUH as an example of “after hours” study space a couple years back, when the horrible library hours was brought up in accreditation by LCME.

    Dean Albritton is aware of all the problems
    He just “out waits” the 2 1/2 year undergrad cycled, and in 2 1/2 years, Harding or some other B teamer will be telling a new generation (all 100 of them) of med students this is “the first they heard of it”

    For 10 years, (okay 9 10/12 th years) Albritton has heard concerns about library hours
    For 10 years, he has heard concerns over annually changing curriculum
    His new structure does nothing to explain why he couldn’t have just hired a secretary to coordinate clinical, or open the library to 11 pm 7 days a week.

    Albritton is a weak and sneaky dean
    The U of S is, has always been, and for the near future will continue to be a WEAK med school
    Until some med students suck it up and DEMAND organization, consistency, and point out that a library that closes at 5 pm on the weekend is a JOKE!

    (Alumni)