Staff Editorial: SMHS’s Skeletons

How much fuss is it possible to make over insufficient study space?

It is logical to conclude, then, that something more serious is wrong at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, which has been on academic probation with its accreditor, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, since this past October. The school, which refuses to release the accreditor’s report that landed them on probation, has said the probation was the result of problems with curriculum management, administrative processes and inadequate study space.

Since last fall, University officials repeatedly denied requests from The Hatchet and other local media to access the LCME report. Four months later, after a former student alleged the medical school violated more than 26 separate accreditation issues in an 18-page complaint, the most memorable of which included having to work with rotting cadaver, it is simply no longer acceptable for SMHS to not publicly answer these accusations by releasing the original report. Add to that a recent Washington Post article based on a confidential document that cites student complaints of “mistreatment at higher-than-average rates,” and the natural question is: What is going on behind those closed doors?

In December, SMHS Dean James Scott was quoted saying, “What they have pointed to are things that have the potential to make us a better school.” Students have a right to know in detail what these things are if that is indeed the case, and even more so if the citations are more serious.

Following a logical train of thought, not releasing the report communicates one clear message: There must be something wrong. When a respectable institution refuses even the smallest amount of transparency for its apparently “minor” transgressions, it is perhaps reasonable to assume the worst.

It’s not hard to understand why the school would want to minimize the press surrounding what is likely an isolated and extreme incident – which may or may not exist, pending disclosure of the report. Nonetheless, everyone connected to SHMS, especially the students, has the right to know about whatever these infamous reports hold. Committing an unthinkable amount of time, money and energy to a medical education trumps any fear of public backlash the school may have.

GW’s medical school is the only one currently on probation, but the few other institutions that have dealt with this in the past with the LCME have been infinitely more open. In 1999, The Stanford University School of Medicine made available critical LCME reports, though the accrediting body reportedly “slammed” the school. The University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine went into in-depth details about curriculum shortcomings in the late 1990s, without hiding the reports. Its dean was more than open about the probation process, even writing letters to other deans to work out the problem.

Why is GW the exception? If the LCME report called the conditions at Stanford “deplorable” – and it was not even put on probation – how much worse must it be in Foggy Bottom?

In a related issue, University Provost John Williams was asked to resign from his dual role as a member of the Board of Directors of the corporation managing the GW Hospital due to a possible conflict of interest. The University still claims that there was no “actual conflict of interest,” but this is a misnomer as there does not have to be any wrongdoing for such a conflict to exist – just the potential. While the GW Hospital is independent of SHMS, Williams was responsible for overseeing the medical school, and this event just makes the call for transparency more immediate.

The skeletons in the medical school’s closet may not be very gruesome at all – but if that is the case, there is zero reason to hide the LCME report. The GW community would take any news of SHMS’s shortcomings better coming straight from the school rather than from whistleblowers that may be exaggerating an especially negative experience.

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