Accreditation for New Medical and Health Professional Schools

Preparation for accreditation in medical, nursing and allied health schools is often a daunting process but the process of preparation itself can lead to sustainable changes and continuous improvements. (full article)

In response to pressures for more health professionals, new medical, nursing and allied health professional schools are being established as countries with developed and emerging economies alike. In this context, most jurisdictions around the world either have in place or are implementing some form of accreditation.  Preparations for accreditation can be daunting even for well-established medical schools.

Accreditation processes are designed primarily to ensure that the educational standards, training and assessment promote and protect the health of communities they serve.  However, they also provide students, especially in new programs or programs which have been faltering, assurance that they are being well served.  Furthermore, the process of preparation for accreditation often presents an opportunity to be a catalyst for change with introduction of sustainable improvements within existing and new schools.

Many institutions have found a four-step process of preparation for accreditation useful, with variable amounts of support from external experts who really understand the process for the jurisdiction concerned:

  1. an initial review phase – a high level process to ensure that all internal key stakeholders understand the accreditation process.  This frequently involves:
    1. a first pass at strengths and weaknesses using some objective criteria
    2. a structured plan for moving forward to submit for accreditation
  2. a detailed organizational assessment – a deeper dive into the organization’s strengths and weakness involving:
    1. detailed review of all departments and functions, usually through an extensive document review and often through on-site visit for interviews – outside input is found useful in some cases to ensure that the organization stays true to the purpose and does not shield weaker areas from necessary scrutiny
    2. a set of materials developed to ensure that all areas of interest to the accreditation agency are covered
  3. remediation for problems identified – if a school begins preparations for accreditation in a timely way, plans for improvement can be developed and implemented prior to the visit of an accreditation agency.
  4. mock survey visit – a simulated on-site assessment, usually with assistance from an experienced outsider, provides the opportunity to:
    1. practice and rehearse for the visit of the accreditation agency, and
    2. identify any lingering issues before a final survey team visit.

In the long term, the process of preparing for an external accreditation is far more important than either the survey visit or the certificate on the wall.  The preparation for accreditation can be a positive catalyst for lasting change when carefully and purposefully managed.