Panel's Review Lands Medical School on Probation

By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 16, 2008

George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences was put on probation by its academic accrediting organization for being out of compliance on several standards, school officials told students and faculty yesterday.

The school remains fully accredited while it makes improvements. But it is the only medical school accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education that is on probation and only the fifth put on probation since 1994. No medical school has ever lost its accreditation through this process, a stroke that would effectively kill the program.

The committee's public explanation of probationary status reads, in part, that "such a determination may be based on the LCME's judgment that the areas of noncompliance have seriously compromised the quality of the medical education program."

Committee co-secretary Dan Hunt of the Association of American Medical Colleges said that he could not talk about the specific areas of concern at GWU and that it was up to the school to decide whether to make the report public. GWU officials declined to release the report.

In an interview, John Williams, provost and vice president for health affairs, said the criticisms fell into three major areas: "curriculum management," "administrative processes" and inadequate study and lounge space. He said some of the problems have been corrected.

The Liaison Committee, which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as the authority for evaluating programs leading to an MD degree, oversees 130 U.S. and 17 Canadian medical schools.

GWU, one of the nation's oldest medical schools, has about 700 students and a good reputation for quality care. Yesterday, Vice President Cheney was treated at George Washington University Hospital for an abnormal heartbeat.

Students appeared to take the news in stride. "I don't feel that affected by it," said Kristen Sramek, a first-year medical student from California. "The people that come out of here are great physicians," and the probation label doesn't change that, she said.

Several fourth-year students said many of their classmates were worried that it might affect their chances in the extremely competitive residency selection process and expressed concern that prospective students might be scared away.

Despite the committee's concern about noncompliance that might have "seriously compromised" medical education, the criticisms school officials described were more about administrative processes than the quality of teaching.

Williams said an example of the curriculum management concern the committee cited was how GWU delineated its written objectives for students. Although the school states that students must learn to do abdominal exams, the committee wants more detailed proof that the students are proficient in examining the liver, spleen and other abdominal organs, he said. "We have to have that [level of detail] for every objective in the curriculum, and that's where we fell short."

The faculty is involved in rewriting those objectives, which takes time, school officials said.

Williams said administrative concerns cited by the committee included that some doctors who work with GWU students at area hospitals had not completed paperwork for the school.

"I think GW's reputation is long-standing, and I think students who are looking at our school will know that and understand that and put this in the context of what GW is," said Jim Scott, the dean of the medical school. "People understand the importance of this. They are committed to making the necessary changes and improvements in order for us to move past this."

The medical school must show its compliance within two years.

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