10 November 2011

Safety net

Imagine: you're at an interview for a residency program. It's your fourth and final year at an accredited allopathic medical school in the United States. You listen to a voice mail from a classmate: your school has lost just its accreditation and the accrediting body says the decision is final. Effective immediately, you are ineligible for any American residency program. Unless you miraculously find another medical school that is willing to admit you and grant you advanced status, you will either have to start medical school over or find a new career. Your hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans are still due.

This account is not fiction. On October 3, 2011, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), the accrediting body for allopathic medical schools in the U.S. and Canada, revoked the accreditation of San Juan Bautista School of Medicine because of "inadequate clinical resources". Although the school's administration knew that it was in danger of losing its accreditation, it had kept its students in the dark until the bitter end. The school enrolled 65 students in each class year.

A couple of schools are accepting a small number of San Juan Bautista students, but the majority of students appear to be absolutely out of luck.

It concerns me that not every medical students makes it. A fraction of those who enter medical school end up unable to practice medicine and saddled with a crushing load of debt. As the sizes of medical school classes increase nationwide and the number of residency spots remains the same, more students (especially those from studying at schools in the Caribbean) will find themselves stuck.

I wish there was a safety net. I'm not sure what it would be, but just some reassurance that if medicine doesn't work out, there's another viable career path that allows a student to pay off his debts.

As I go farther in medical school, I am increasingly committed to the profession. With that, I am increasingly entrusting some of my well-being to things beyond my control. All I can do is work to succeed and hope that everything turns out for the best.

UPDATE: The school's accreditation has been temporarily reinstated per a federal court injunction. Its fate remains in limbo.