Administrators at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine have submitted a preliminary accreditation application, seeking to expedite the institution's entrance into the competitive arena of medical instruction.
Filed last Friday, the 600-page application document covers the five main areas of review required by the Liaison Committee for Medical Education. Areas include institutional setting, education and curriculum, student affairs and educational resources.
Preliminary accreditation by the LCME is a crucial step in the development of a medical program. It is the first step in overall school accreditation, which certifies that an allopathic school's Doctor of Medicine degree meets national standards for structure and function, and is officially granted during the fourth year of a school's first medical class.
Allopathic medicine differs from Virginia Tech's already-established Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine because allopathic medicine treats the symptoms of diseases, whereas osteopathic medicine is directed toward preventive care.
VTC's accreditation packet will be initially reviewed during the LCME's October meeting, after which a site visitor will evaluate the school as it stands. In February of 2009, the LCME will meet again to assess the application and site report together and make a decision on accreditation. If preliminary accreditation is granted, the school can begin planning an official timeline, as well as recruiting students.
If VTC tried to recruit students in any way before granted preliminary accreditation, the LCME would not accredit the school until after it had graduated its charter class as a penalty. An unaccredited medical school is not necessarily eligible for federal grants or loan programs. Students who graduate from unaccredited medical schools are not necessarily eligible to take the United States Medical Licensing Examination or participate in accredited medical residencies, which is "why we take it so seriously," said Terri Workman, senior associate dean for operations at VTC. "It's to protect the students, so that you know when you come to a school, you are afforded all of the rights and policies you would have at any other established school."
It is a thin line schools with pending preliminary accreditation have to walk.
"From the day people heard about (the new medical school), I'd get e-mails from pre-med clubs or students asking for information and how they get in, and we have to be very careful about answering those questions," said Cynda Ann Johnson, dean of the VTC School of Medicine.
The school has reverted to the more traditional four-year schedule after initial plans to be a five-year program with the extra year emphasizing a research thesis and project.
"We put together a really nice curriculum that fills the bill in four years without overtaxing the students," said Johnson. "We use the time wisely and have a thread of research through the entire curriculum. So really, there's actually even more research than there would have been otherwise because it is longitudinal."
They believe this will also be in the students' best interest, as it will decrease time and financial costs, both limited quantities in the life of an aspiring physician. The school's planned program, one of the aspects the LCME will evaluate, will be a "patient-centered curriculum" and will be divided into four parts, or "value domains."
"One of the wonderful things about starting a school is that we get to name everything whatever we want," Johnson said with a laugh.
The four value domains will be research, basic science, patient care and clinical skills and inter-professionalism.