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.