The ‘a’ word

Guest blog by Dr. Athena McConnell, Director, Quality and Accreditation

The word “accreditation” can have an almost immediate effect on people who have had good or bad experiences with the process in higher education. I must admit, as a bit of an accreditation nerd, I love it—which is probably a good quality to have given my role! While accreditation standards and elements are the minimum requirements necessary for medical schools to graduate caring and competent physicians, we can use the same bar to continually improve in how we achieve that mission.

I have been working in accreditation in the College of Medicine since 2010, and the landscape has changed in the past 11 years. In an ideal world, we would have conducted our Interim Accreditation Review (IAR) in 2013, as it was exactly at the midpoint of our 8-year accreditation cycle. Unfortunately, we were in the midst of preparing for a limited site visit from the accreditors. The 2013 visit was just one of the many accreditation activities stemming from the 2009 full site visit.

We held our last full site visit in 2017 and the preparation was extensive, including a mock accreditation visit. The hard work paid of and after two follow-up status reports our medical school has one of the best accreditation ratings among medical schools in the country. Across all 96 elements on which we are reviewed, we are fully satisfactory on 94 of them with the accrediting body.

On October 4 and 5, the college completed its first IAR, since we are now again halfway between site visits. This IAR was completed through a lot of hard work by students, faculty, and staff in the college. The results of an IAR are not submitted to the accreditors. IARs are formative internal reviews intended to find areas the school will need to work on in advance of their next site visit; they allow schools to be proactive in making changes rather than reactive.

Overall, we have done very well in keeping our eye on the ball and keeping that ‘A’ word in mind, which is reflected in our IAR results. Do we still have some areas that require closer attention and maybe a little extra care? Yes. However, we have also identified some areas of strength that have not skipped a beat since the 2017 visit. This is very encouraging and means that regardless of past negative connotations of the ‘a’ word in the college, there has been a significant shift in culture that is showing in our results.

Everyone in the college should give themselves a pat on the back for all of their hard work. The Undergraduate Medical Education (UGME) team in general have worked very hard to ensure that accreditation is front of mind for all staff, faculty, and leadership. Under Dr. Pat Blakley and now Dr. Meredith McKague in the associate dean UGME role, the UGME team has not missed a beat. Some specific groups have continued to excel over the past four years and deserve a special shout out:

  • The UGME Curriculum Committee and all its subcommittees. These groups have really incorporated accreditation into all their endeavours.
  • The Admissions team has been aware of the accreditation requirements and monitoring processes even during an admissions renewal process.

The next full site visit will occur in the spring of 2026. That means that documentation will start to be gathered in the fall of 2024. The IAR results will guide our work from now until then. Based on the level of engagement in the college, I have complete confidence that we will use the upcoming years to ensure a successful 2026 visit.

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