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SLU medical school changes curriculum, taken off probation

Saint Louis University School of Medicine recently was taken off probation by the nation's accrediting body.
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Saint Louis University School of Medicine recently was taken off probation by the nation's accrediting body.

The agency in charge of licensing the nation’s medical schools has taken the Saint Louis University School of Medicine off probation.

The Liaison Committee on Medical Education informed the school in 2017 that it was putting the school on notice in part because the university could not comprehensively demonstrate and measure what medical students were learning. School officials said it’s made changes to remedy the agency's complaints.

This week, the committee decided that SLU has taken necessary steps to move off probation.

Early last year, the agency sent a letter to SLU President Fred Pestello naming more than 20 areas in which the medical school did not meet national standards. In addition to problems with measuring student learning, the organization said the school lacked a program to recruit lower-income students and a set procedure for students and faculty to report mistreatment.

It also noted gaps in the school curriculum, including a lack of classes that addressed basic tenets of the scientific method.

SLU’s medical school has revamped the staff in charge of curriculum, Behrns said. Previously, there were too many people directing which classes student took and how to measure how effective they were, he said.

Last year, the school also fired its associate dean of curriculum, Stuart Slavin. Slavin had received national acclaim for drawing attention to suicide and depression among medical students.

“I think we needed to make some improvements, and I think we took this in the right spirit,” said Kevin Behrns, dean of the medical school. “We said, 'This is a learning lesson for us, we’re going to use this probation to get better and do a thorough assessment.'”

The committee accredits more than 100 medical schools across the United States. At the time, SLU School of Medicine was the only school that was on probation.

When a school is accredited, it can award M.D. degrees to its graduates. To practice medicine, doctors must have an M.D. degree and pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination.

To be accredited, schools must demonstrate certain standards related to curriculum, finance and recruitment practices.

The school also added classes that incorporated principles of scientific ethics, especially related to clinical trials, Behrns said.

“At multiple parts in the curriculum, we’ll say, 'We’ll not only teach you the scientific method, we’ll have you work on examples of putting the scientific method to use in hypothetical situation,'” Behrns said.

The school also revamped how it measures how well its teaching its students. For example, it will use end-of-class tests that measure how students compare with those in other medical schools.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

Sarah is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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