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GWU medical school sheds probationary status

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By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 4, 2010

The George Washington University medical school has been taken off academic probation by its accrediting body, officials said Wednesday, ending a difficult chapter at one of the nation's oldest schools of medical education.

Accreditors voted Tuesday to rescind the probation after meeting for two days to review the school's progress, said Barbara Barzansky, secretary of the Liaison Committee on Medical Education.

The School of Medicine and Health Sciences became the only medical school on probation among 129 accredited institutions in the country when the action was taken in fall 2008. Today, only one U.S. medical school has probationary status, the Ponce School of Medicine in Puerto Rico, Barzansky said.

James Scott, dean of the GWU medical school, said the probation "consumed most of my waking and sleeping hours for the last year and a half. I am very pleased to move past it."

But he said he does not think the school's long-term reputation has suffered. The school received more than 14,000 applications this year for 175 seats, he said.

The medical school's accreditation never lapsed, and the credibility of an MD granted by GWU was not at issue. Nonetheless, shedding the probationary status is "a good thing, because it means that sort of bad label is no longer attached to the school," said John Kastor, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine who recently wrote a book about the GWU and Georgetown University medical schools.

"And it means they've repaired some of the shortcomings that the certifying institution thought they had, and they've joined the rest of the club."

Accreditors found problems with the GWU school's administrative paperwork and curriculum management, which includes oversight of student experiences in classrooms and clinics and ensuring that clinical experiences align with what is taught in class.

School officials have replaced paper evaluations with a computerized system and developed a new curriculum-management database, the dean said.

The school was also cited for a shortage of student lounge space. Administrators have "built new lounge space and renovated a large amount of study space to make this a more conducive place for medical students to learn and interact," Scott said.

Student debt levels at the school are among the highest in the country. Scott said the school has launched an effort to "raise more scholarship money and hold our tuition at a reasonable level." Tuition and fees for a year average $47,644, according to the school's Web site.

Founded in 1825, the school has treated presidents and is known for its teaching but is weaker in research. It ranks low among medical schools, for example, in research dollars awarded by the National Institutes of Health.

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