UCSF Enjoys Banner Year for Accreditation, Key Indicator of Academic Excellence

By Patricia Yollin

Crystal Wang studies at the library at UCSF.

Crystal Wang studies at the library at UCSF, which has earned four separate accreditations, reflecting academic excellence across the health sciences university.

It’s a little bit like academia’s equivalent of a grand slam home run in baseball: UCSF has been awarded four separate accreditations this year, with stellar grades in every case.

“The quality of medical education is ensured through this process,” said David Irby, PhD, a professor of medicine at UCSF, vice dean for education at the UCSF School of Medicine. “This was a banner year for accreditation.”

Robert Baron, MD, MS, was equally pleased with UCSF’s performance. “We were pretty confident that our programs were of the very highest standards. This reinforces our academic excellence,” said the professor of medicine, who is associate dean for graduate and continuing medical education as well as vice chief of the division of general internal medicine.

Schools must be accredited in order for them to receive federal funds for medical education and for their students to obtain federal loans and sit for national board exams. “To not get accreditation would essentially shut down the front door,” Irby said.

Baron oversaw the accreditation process for UCSF’s Continuing Medical Education (CME) program, which was accredited with commendation for the maximum term of six years, and for Graduate Medical Education (GME), which received the maximum five-year accreditation. Irby, who is stepping down from the vice dean position next month, was in charge of the School of Medicine’s quest. Its Undergraduate Medical Education (UME) program garnered an eight-year accreditation, also the maximum, from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME).

David Irby, PhD

David Irby, PhD

Earlier this year, as reported, UCSF’s overall campus was given a maximum 10-year accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) across all schools and the Graduate Division.

“To do all four of these in one year is a lot,” Baron said. “We did extraordinarily well.”

In a message thanking the medical school teams for their achievement, Sam Hawgood, MBBS, dean of the School of Medicine, said that "our academic vitality continues to be an inspiration and a paradigm for schools nationwide."

Review Process Takes a Village

The accreditation process is grueling and exacting. Irby estimates it took more than three years to prepare for the rigorous review of the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, for instance. “It is a huge institutional responsibility,” he said. “They have standards every school must meet. There are 120 standards, but if you subdivide them there are really over 330. The database we had to provide for the self-study was 2,500 pages long.”

The Liaison Committee on Medical Education, administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Medical Association, is the nationally recognized accrediting authority for medical education programs leading to MD degrees in US and Canadian medical schools.

Irby said the report by the liaison committee commended the School of Medicine for its strengths in creating an extraordinary environment of collaboration, innovation and scholarship, especially in medical education. It noted that the energy and passion of the faculty for teaching and mentoring was apparent throughout the site committee’s three-day visit.

Robert Baron, MD, MS

Robert Baron, MD, MS

The report also called the quality and cohesion of the faculty exemplary, and praised the outstanding clinical resources at UCSF Medical Center as well as San Francisco General Hospital and the San Francisco VA Medical Center, all three important training grounds for future health care professionals.

Similarly, Baron said, the evaluators of Continuing Medical Education commented on the program’s process of engaging its activities with other functions of the University and the community at large, and described the continuing education program as a “change agent” for physicians. The external review of Graduate Medical Education praised its overall compliance with standards.

“For an institution as big as ours, with 80 different programs, that’s quite a positive report,” Baron said.

Continuing Medical Education helps physicians and other health care professionals sharpen their abilities through classes in all medical specialties, Graduate Medical Education offers training courses for residents and fellows, and Undergraduate Medical Education provides curricula and services that guide students through four years of medical school.

A commendation was awarded to continuing education because it complied with all 22 criteria and accreditation policies. Graduate education was cited in two areas needing improvement, while Undergraduate Medical Education had eight citations, some of which have already been remedied.

Although it’s easy for institutions to be critical of the accreditation process, Baron prefers to view it as a cup half full.

“There are a lot of requirements and very often one is criticized for what seems to be a relatively minor violation,” Baron said. “That can be frustrating. On the other hand, accreditation can be an effective lever for change – a stimulus to improve one’s own practice. It is peer-reviewed and transparent. One identifies problems, and often the institution is more willing to invest in solutions.”

Given that all three programs received the maximum terms, Baron and Irby were relieved and gratified.

“It’s a major process that involves a lot of time and energy,” Irby said. “But the good news is that it all works to improve the educational process for our students. It’s a way to review your strengths and limitations and to develop a work plan to address the problems and improve the overall quality of the learning environment.”

He said 250 to 300 students, faculty and staff were involved in the undergraduate program accreditation marathon, and the visiting Liaison Committee on Medical Education reviewers met with 140 people in all.

“It takes a village,” Baron said. “It reflects the kind of community we’ve built, where we work on these things in a very open way.”

Photo by Cindy Chew