Medical School efforts paying off

Originally published in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, January 29, 2015

The U of S College of Medicine is ambitious and focused on delivering success for the people of our province.  As Saskatchewan’s only medical school, we have nearly 90 years of history, almost 4,000 proud alumni, and a renewed determination to finally move forward.  

Despite recent comments that “twenty years later, the college of medicine remains plagued with problems”, the students, teachers, researchers and partners today are making aggressive gains to rebuild the college.  Our efforts are producing results.

Graduates say the most important test of a medical school’s success is the quality of training.

One measure of quality is student success in national licensing exams. In 2013, scores improved. In 2014, our grads earned a 100 per cent pass rate. Continuing this trend, and to help prepare students for the redesigned national exams, we’re rolling out a new curriculum this year with an increased emphasis on clinical knowledge and skills.

But measuring quality goes beyond test scores. Are graduates recognizing and treating disease superbly; promoting health and prevention effectively; demonstrating a caring and compassionate manner?  In this regard, Saskatchewan’s College of Medicine holds a great reputation.  

U of S medical grads are welcomed with open arms at residency training sites across Canada.  At Dalhousie, I chaired the selection committee for five years, seeing thousands of medical student applications.  U of S graduates were as good or better than the rest. I supervised U of S graduates in Family Medicine.  Again, they were among the best.

For detractors who say too many of our grads are leaving: in 2014, 63% of our graduating class stayed in Saskatchewan for residency training.  

As for accreditation, the majority of Canadian medical schools have had accreditation challenges over the last 10 years.  We’re already preparing for another visit this May, with planning lead by an Assistant Dean, and an accreditation specialist.  These are new resources and they’re demonstrating excellent progress.

Accreditation is an eight-year cycle – our next regular full visit is in 2017.  We’ll learn the results of the May visit next fall.  Even if all goes according to plan, the college may still stay on probation until 2017 – that is simply how it works. 

Besides teaching, the other half of a medical school’s role is research.  Most medical schools bring in 50 per cent of their university’s research dollars.  The key to success is having MD researchers to provide linkages between basic scientists and the healthcare system. 

So, we’re actively recruiting more MD researchers, restructuring our basic science departments and building stronger relationships with our healthcare partners.

There is enormous potential in Saskatchewan and we’re capitalizing on state of the art biomedical science laboratories, the advantage of having all health professions on campus, along with the veterinary college, Canada’s only synchrotron, and VIDO-Intervac.  

We are doing research to change lives and, more importantly, this research is improving care for Saskatchewan patients.

For the U of S, there is a singular over-riding factor that led to challenges with both accreditation and research productivity: shortage of faculty.

Compared to similar medical schools, we’re running with less than half the physician time available to our peers. 

We teach our learners patient care comes first. When our MD faculty must choose between patient care, education and research – they choose patient care. The best question is not ‘why we are on probation’ but ‘how have we done as well as we have’.

Together with the province and health regions, we’re developing a new Provincial Academic Clinical Funding Plan – the most commonly used approach for engaging and compensating academic physicians. A new approach will be used in rewarding over 1,000 community physicians across Saskatchewan who are contributing to our mission.

Saskatchewan is a ‘have’ province with our provincial economy remaining amongst the strongest. We are attracting doctors and retaining our own graduates. The College of Medicine is well-resourced.   

Our strategic plan, The Way Forward, maps out the required change agenda.  I don’t think any medical school in Canada has gone through the intense soul-searching, consultation and debate, research on best practices, and comprehensive planning as the U of S College of Medicine between 2012 and 2014. 

Change is always hard and much is still needed. Everyday, I see opportunity and momentum. Wherever I go, the prevailing wind is “let’s go, we’re ready”.  Stakeholders and partners echo “we are behind the College of Medicine”.  With this level of support and pride, my 16 dean colleagues across the country are envious, I’m sure.

Watch us. We’ll make you proud too.



Momentum in 2015

So we’re a few weeks in to the New Year, and I would like to offer my best wishes for 2015 to all of our learners, faculty and staff here at the CoM, and all of our partners and stakeholders at the university, the healthcare system and across our fine province.

2015 promises to be an auspicious and ambitious year for the CoM and at the U of S.  At the university, we will select and welcome our new president in 2015.  Our Interim President, Dr. Barnhart, and Interim Provost, Dr. Barber, have done a great job of leading us after a challenging 2014, and the university is clearly ready to move forward. I have the privilege of serving on the search committee for the new president and while its proceedings are of course confidential, I welcome your input and advice.

There are a number of priorities I intend to focus energy on this year.  Speaking broadly, I would characterize each of these priorities under a theme of momentum. While it may be hard to recognize significant change from day to day, there truly is a sense of momentum here in our CoM.  A year from now in January 2016, when we look back on 2015, I want us all to be astonished and proud of how far we’ve moved forward.

So, on that note, here are a few of my priorities for us in 2015:

Top of everybody’s mind is the accreditation visit scheduled for May 10 – 12. Dr. Athena McConnell, our Assistant Dean Quality, and Kevin Siebert, our Accreditation Specialist, are working hard in preparation – as are many of you.  You’ve heard me say this before: accreditation is peer review on a national scale, and our CoM belongs among the best. Accreditation must be a team sport for our college to be successful, and I call on everyone to work with us as we prepare to demonstrate to our peers how far we have come.  Even more importantly, I want to show how far we intend to go.  You will be hearing much more from us over the next four months.

In terms of accreditation we are continuing to advance our expertise.  Dr. Sheila Harding has been asked by the AFMC, our national body of medical schools, to be a representative on the Committee of Accreditation of Canadian Medical Schools; we plan to send a group of approximately 20 key people to a workshop at the Canadian Conference on Medical Education in Vancouver this April; and I Chair the accreditation team visiting the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University in April.  So we are preparing for our own visit, but more importantly, we are developing a team and a culture to ensure accreditation success well into the future.

2015 will be a big year for our colleagues in the School of Physical Therapy on two huge fronts.  They are well on their way to preparing for their accreditation visit and have already submitted their documentation. The visit is planned for February 23 to 25.

Much more importantly, this is the School’s 50th anniversary year.  A celebration and reunion weekend is in the works for September 11 – 13.  I attended the School’s graduation celebrations this year, and have had the opportunity to meet with students, faculty and alumni, so am looking forward to being part of the anniversary. The School of Physical Therapy is clearly one of the shiniest jewels in our crown at the CoM, and we look forward to celebrating with them in 2015.

2015 will be a big year for PGME as the full accreditation for all of our programs takes place in November.  We had an internal review of the “A Standards” done in December by Dr. Mark Walton from McMaster University, and we look forward to using this information as our preparations proceed.  I know all programs are working hard to prepare.

In December, I attended a retreat here with the Department of Medicine, and another in Moose Jaw for Family Medicine where PGME accreditation was a key theme.  Repeatedly we were reminded what clinical teachers can do on a daily basis to ensure accreditation success are the following: ensure you and your residents know the objectives; provide timely and effective feedback; complete evaluations on time; and do all you can to ensure a safe, positive and constructive learning environment.  And thank you to all of you who do this every day without the dean’s reminders!!

My first task given to Dr. Steven Harrison, our Chief Operating Officer, on day one was “to make the trains run on time” at the CoM. This fall we have been busy assembling the team to achieve this goal.  I’ve been meeting with Sinead McGartland, our new Projects Manager and we have planned the launch of four big projects.

As promised, we will be embarking on strategic planning for Distributed Medical Education and I envision over the next three years, we will establish five rural sites for longitudinal integrated clerkships;  two more FM residency sites; three new RCPSC programs based in Regina; and additional rotations in PA.  The second project, also as promised, is the complete revision of the compensation strategy for our faculty who are paid on a stipend or fee for service basis. Third, we will continue the process to restructure our basic science departments.

With regards to the fourth project, my former dean and mentor, Dr. Tom Marrie, was always very willing to ask for advice. Despite being one of the best clinicians I ever knew, he always said asking for a second opinion was always a great opportunity to learn.

It is common for departments, centres and institutes to have external reviews, although maybe less common for deans or medical schools to do the same. Accreditation is an external review, but highly successful medical schools need to do far more than pass accreditation.

I have invited two very experienced deans, Dr. Catharine Whiteside (who just stepped down at the University of Toronto) and Dr. Brian Postl, (University of Manitoba), to come and review our strategic plans, our resources and our operations. Many of you will have an opportunity to meet with them when they visit February 2-4. This is a strictly internal review, advisory to myself (and thus independent of accreditation) and I look forward to their feedback and sage advice.

At the leadership level, we have five major national searches underway.  Professional search firms have been engaged for two vice-deans and three department heads, as well as a Director of Finance.  We are doing several assistant dean searches internally. I look forward to having a full leadership team in place, but also recognize and appreciate the hard work currently being done by those in acting positions.

We continue to work in partnership with our provincial government.  This fall, we established a tri-party table between the CoM and the Ministries of Advanced Education and Health.  These discussions have proven very beneficial and I am encouraged to know they will continue in 2015.

We also continue to work with the province and the health authorities on the first ACFP.  Progress is being made. I have up to a dozen potential recruitments on my desk, and many are ideally suited for the ACFP, and are keen to contribute to clinical care and academic work in Saskatchewan. The Provincial Physician Resource Plan should be completed in 2015.

I continue to work with my Co-Chair on the Council of Health Science Deans, Dr. Lorna Butler, to renew that organization, and advance team science and inter-professional education here in the Health Sciences Building, and across the healthcare system.

Other projects I am keen to see move forward in 2015 are our simulation strategy, including a surgical skills laboratory, the development of our medical education unit, a plan for fundraising, and many more….

As always, my door is open. Let me know what you think.

So as Dr. Suess said, “You’re off to great places!”  Welcome to 2015.