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Finding opportunity following McGill undergraduate medical program probation

a/Opinion by

In recent years McGill has become associated with financial struggles and student protests; most recently, McGill’s name has circulated following the Committee of Accreditation of Canadian Medical Schools' (CACMS) decision to put the undergraduate medical program—part of a Faculty that has existed since 1829 and is considered one of the beacons of the university—on probation. Trepidation looms above all conversations on the matter. What does this really mean for the school? And what will those in charge decide to do? Probation is a stain, but perhaps a silver lining can be found. With the proper allocation of time and resources, this reminder of McGill’s mortality may be just what the doctor ordered.

McGill’s medical program is the oldest in the country, and this is the first time it has been put on probation. Despite the setbacks, the review is ultimately a good thing. In a comment to the Montreal Gazette, Nebras Warsi, the former president of the Medical Students’ Society, argued that the accreditation process will force the university to improve the program.

To others it is a glaring reminder of how far McGill has fallen after years of government austerity, budget cuts, and financial uncertainty. It is a glaring reminder of who pays the cost for McGill’s administrative failures—the students. The CACMS exists to ensure medical schools produce quality medical professionals. Probation does not mean the doctors who go through the school in this period are any worse; instead, it seeks to ensure that medical schools across the country meet certain standards of education. In the short-term this logic becomes faulty as the action framework does not indicate how students whose studies may have suffered leading up to the review will be compensated.

But this perspective should be tempered by two caveats. First, moving the medical program from the Royal Victoria Hospital to the new McGill University Health Centre was disruptive, possibly influencing the findings of the review. Second, probation is by no means the end of a program. It is an opportunity to resolve shortcomings and ensure the resilience of the program. In fact, probation should be seen as an opportunity to innovate.

McGill’s action plan provides hopeful prospects for the future by detailing McGill’s plan to address each standard for which they were found to be non-compliant. The plan includes strategies to improve on the consistency of educational experiences and assessments, gather feedback from students in order to improve instruction in women’s health, and ensure that medical students are aware of overall program objectives.

“Probation is by no means the end of a program. It is an opportunity to resolve shortcomings and ensure the resilience of the program.”

David Eidelman, dean of Medicine, has stated that he will put every effort into ensuring future students do not face similar circumstances. Where the administration has faced obstacles, the program should take the opportunity to go beyond the minimum standards laid out by the CACMS. Dalhousie’s program may be taken as an example of how probation may be an opportunity for improvement. Since its two-year probation, beginning in 2009, was lifted, several of Dalhousie’s courses have been deemed national models.

Should these strategies succeed, students within the program will be confident that their experience conforms to the high standards and rigour that is expected of prospective medical professionals. Improving the ability of students to report violations of the workload policy and standards of conduct without fear of reprisal or breaches of confidence or anonymity will restore student trust and wellness. But it will be the innovation that follows once the probation has been lifted that will define the program in the future.

McGill’s medical school has always been a point of pride for the university. While probation clouds this image, it is not obscured. With time, probation must push the faculty to return to the principles that once defined McGill as the preeminent institution in Canada.

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