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    FSU med school not accredited

    The school, created two years ago despite criticism it wasn't needed, does not meet national standards. School administrators will appeal the decision.

    By MIKE BRASSFIELD
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 8, 2002


    Two years after state lawmakers created a medical school that critics said wasn't needed, the fledgling institution at Florida State University has suffered an unexpected setback.

    The national committee that accredits medical schools informed FSU on Thursday that it is denying accreditation because the medical school doesn't meet national standards.

    The move could jeopardize the new school's ability to get federal grants and participate in federal loan programs. It also would make it difficult for graduates to get medical licenses, unless the school is accredited before the first class graduates in 2005.

    FSU administrators said they will appeal the decision, and will work to fix any problems. They said they are confident the school will become accredited.

    "This is certainly not the end of the world," said former House Speaker John Thrasher, who was instrumental in creating the medical school and now is chairman of its governing board.

    FSU's medical school is in its first year and has 30 students. It plans to grow to about 480 students, with an emphasis on training doctors to work in medically neglected rural communities and inner cities.

    Medical schools are accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, a joint body of the American Medical Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges.

    LCME officials voiced several concerns about FSU's medical school during a three-day inspection in December. Among other things, they were concerned about the school's lack of a teaching hospital. The four inspectors also worried there wasn't enough faculty to handle future enrollment increases.

    The medical school said it continues to hire faculty.

    Dr. Joseph Scherger, the medical school's dean, said he's certain the college can address the committee's concerns.

    "As the first new medical school in more than 20 years to seek accreditation from the LCME, and as one that is taking an innovative approach to medical education, we anticipate some difficulties along the road," Scherger said Thursday.

    "We are confident that we are providing a first-rate medical education for our students," Scherger said. "We continue to attract some of the most highly regarded faculty in the country, and we believe our curriculum will become a model for community-based medical schools of the future."

    Accreditation simply means that a school meets national standards. FSU's medical school is seeking provisional accreditation at this point. Full accreditation wouldn't come until the school's first class graduates in 2005.

    Without accreditation, graduates of FSU's medical school wouldn't be able to move on to the necessary graduate education and medical residency programs needed to become full-fledged doctors, said Dr. Frank Simon, co-secretary of the LCME.

    Also, most states require medical students to graduate from an LCME-accredited school in order to get a medical license, the LCME said.

    It was unclear Thursday why the medical school was denied accreditation. Simon phoned FSU with the news Thursday afternoon and said a letter next week would spell out the reasons.

    Simon wouldn't comment further.

    Scherger, the medical school's dean, told the Tallahassee Democrat in December that the LCME inspectors had raised the following concerns:

    They wanted to see a better structure in place for making curriculum decisions.

    They worried the school was working its first-year students harder than the national norms. FSU's first-year class is three terms long compared to the usual two.

    They warned the school against growing too quickly and urged it to keep hiring faculty as enrollment increases.

    They thought the school's dependence on state dollars didn't give it a diverse enough income. Most medical schools earn money from faculty doctors treating patients, but FSU's school has no teaching hospital -- the traditional training ground for physicians. Plans for a hospital were abandoned as too expensive.

    Instead, FSU medical students will spend much of their time training in nursing homes and rural clinics, where doctors will be paid to teach students on the job. That means FSU's medical school will need to work on getting grants and endowments to supplement its state income, Scherger said.

    Thrasher, the former House speaker and FSU alum who helped win a new medical school for his alma mater, said he didn't think Thursday's ruling would have any lasting effect on the school.

    All the LCME is saying is that the school must do a few things before it's ready, Thrasher said. He noted the LCME hasn't accredited a new medical school in more than two decades.

    "They are probably being very cautious," he said. And he's confident that lawmakers will keep supporting the school and not use this as a reason to shortchange its funding.

    "I hope there won't be any political overtones to it," Thrasher said.

    Before FSU's medical school was approved by state lawmakers, the deans at Florida's four other medical schools said it would have never even been proposed if it weren't backed by powerful FSU alumni in the Legislature, especially then-House Speaker Thrasher.

    The deans said Florida had more than enough physicians overall, a stance supported by the American Medical Association, the American Association of Medical Colleges and the state Board of Regents, which voted against creating the school.

    They also noted the heavy cost of providing medical education; many academic medical centers in the United States run persistent deficits.

    But lawmakers still approved spending $45-million initially for the medical school, with the expectation that billions more would be spent down the line.

    Many observers said it was just one more example of pork-barrel politics, Florida style.

    -- Times staff writers Alisa Ulferts and Barry Klein and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

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