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Med school back on track by 2010

More than 200 faculty members of Dalhousie’s school of medicine, and almost as many students, are sitting on committees to help craft the future of their school.

Since Oct. 15, the school’s power to grant degrees to doctors has been on probation. The body that decides this – the Liaison Committee for Medical Education (LCME) – is an American certifier of medical schools both in the United States and in Canada.

The biggest problems identified at the Dal medical school by the committee had to do with curriculum.

“The curriculum hadn’t been extensively reviewed since 1992,” said medical school dean Thomas Marrie.

The school was hoping to defer an overhaul of the curriculum until after the establishment of a branch of the school in New Brunswick. In hindsight, Marrie says this probably wasn’t the best decision. He started his tenure as dean in July 2009.

The committee found Dal non-compliant with 10 of their standards. Some are fairly straightforward: they want the school to “assure that students have adequate study space, lounge areas and personal lockers,” but most aren’t infrastructure-based.

Marrie said one curriculum change the committee is asking for is extra mid-term exams, in addition to ones that medical students take now at the end of each educational unit.

He says the problem-based learning model the school uses right now provides several opportunities for evaluation, beyond a rigid exam, but unfortunately an exam is what the committee is asking for.

One student says his day-to-day academic life isn’t affected by the probation yet.

“I and most of the other students I know aren’t really worried about it,” said Mathieu Blanchard, a second-year medical student.

“The only real effect it has on the students is that there (are) quite a few of them taking part in the committees, which are revamping the curriculum to meet standards.”

Twenty of these committees are now meeting to research and review the best medical schools in Canada and the U.S. The committees are also tasked with coming up with ways to implement others’ practices here at Dal.

“They should have their reports ready by mid-November,” he said.

The school has scheduled a symposium for the last weekend in November. Experts in the field of medical curriculums from all over Canada and some from the U.S. will come to Dal to workshop the proposal and set goals for the school.

Deans from Ottawa, Alberta, and a representative from the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada will be among the attendees.

Marrie is confident this method will result in a curriculum – both in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick – that meets committee standards by September 2010.

Marrie’s optimism seems to have rubbed off on the students.

“Dean Marrie is the perfect person to fix this,” said Matthew Clarke, a first-year medical student. “I’m excited to see him here and see what he will accomplish over the next couple of years.”

Canada has only 16 schools that grant medical degrees. Even so, Marrie said he has not had any pressure or support from any level of government to successfully pass the probation.

“I think the expectation is that we will fix it,” he said. “And we’re well on our way.”


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