Meharry Medical College, one of the oldest and largest historically Black academic health institutions in the US, disclosed recently that its MD program had been placed on probationary status after a national accrediting agency’s onsite survey uncovered “infrastructure” problems earlier this year. Those include faculty shortages and inadequate student access to financial aid as well as to career and wellness counseling.
The inspection was conducted by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), an accrediting body sponsored by the Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Medical Association.
While participation is voluntary, institutions must comply with 12 standards to maintain their standing. These include hiring qualified faculty and providing students with financial aid and debt management counseling.
Dr Jeannette South-Paul
Jeannette South-Paul, MD, Meharry’s senior vice president and chief academic officer, told Medscape Medical News the degree program remains fully accredited despite the fact that LCME representatives found “notable areas of concern,” including the “need for some infrastructure updates and additional educational and financial resources for students.”
Specifically, students did not have sufficient access to advising services, broadband internet, and study spaces. In addition, faculty shortages caused delays in student evaluations, she said.
The new status does not affect the ability of students to complete their medical degrees or residency programs, she said. South-Paul added that school officials have begun addressing several of the issues and anticipate a swift resolution “guided by an aggressive action plan over the next 18–24 months.”
The university, located in Nashville, Tennessee, has had accreditation problems before. In January, following a site visit and low scores on annual resident surveys, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) placed several of the schools’ residency and fellowship programs on probationary status.
At the time, school officials said that all programs would remain accredited, and they committed to expanding available resources, such as hiring additional staff and an independent expert to make program recommendations. A follow-up site visit was scheduled for August.
Dr Veronica Catanese
Regarding the most recent accreditation challenges, Veronica M. Catanese, MD, MBA, co-secretary of LCME, said the organization could only disclose the accreditation status of a medical school.
“LCME is not able to discuss any details concerning the accreditation of individual medical education programs, including the review process, resulting decisions, or survey results,” she said.
Established medical education programs typically undergo a self-study process and a full survey visit every 8 years. According to LCME’s website, a full survey visit may be conducted sooner if concerns arise about the program’s quality or sustainability.
The LCME program directory lists Meharry Medical College’s accreditation status as “full, on probation.” The next survey visit is scheduled for the 2023–2024 school year.
The Impact of Funding on Accreditation
LCME accreditation is a prerequisite for having access to federal grants and programs, such as Title VII funding, which helps increase minority participation in healthcare careers. In addition, most state licensure boards and ACGME-affiliated residency programs require applicants to graduate from an LCME-accredited school.
Last year, when Meharry Medical College received pandemic aid money as part of the CARES Act, the school distributed nearly $10 million in scholarships to students — many of whom come from modest-income families and struggle to afford college tuition.
But in general, endowments to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are often at least 70% smaller than those made to non-HBCUs, which raises the question: Does the lack of funding make it more difficult for schools such as Meharry to maintain accreditation standards?
“Many different factors played into this finding by LCME,” said South-Paul. “It is a well-known fact that HBCUs have historically not been as well funded or possess the same size endowments as their mainstream academic peers. That is true of Meharry, but it would not be accurate to say this probation is because we are an HBCU.”
Similarly, Catanese said there is no evidence that HBCUs and non-HBCUs differ in their ability to meet LCME accreditation standards.
About half of the school’s residency and fellowship programs continue to have accreditation problems. According to ACGME’s database, the internal medicine program is currently on “continued accreditation with warning” status. The psychiatry and ob/gyn programs are on “probationary accreditation” after receiving warnings in previous years.
Meharry was chartered in 1915 but was founded in 1876 as one of the first medical schools in the South for Black Americans.
Steph Weber is a Midwest-based freelance journalist specializing in healthcare and law.
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