The students behind accreditation

The work being done by Nolan Rau and John Dickinson, the co-chairs of the Independent Student Analysis (ISA), is invaluable to the accreditation process

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John Dickinson (L) and Nolan Rau

What often gets lost in conversations about accreditation is the role that the College of Medicine’s student body plays in the process.

While most people tend to assume that the work done behind the scenes in preparing for an accreditation cycle is done by the administration, staff and faculty, the truth is that the students themselves play a very large role in ensuring success. And nowhere is that more visible than the work being done by Nolan Rau and John Dickinson, the co-chairs of the Independent Student Analysis (ISA).

“It’s basically a survey that’s administered to the students, by the students,” explained Rau when asked what the ISA is. “The Committee on the Accreditation of Canadian Medical Schools (CACMS), the accrediting body, gives us 61 questions that we have to ask, and then we’ve got the freedom to explore different strengths and weaknesses of the college (as) identified by the students.”

Once all the responses had been gathered, Rau and Dickinson then spent a few weeks at the beginning of the summer analyzing the results and writing a report, that Rau estimates reached 100 pages once completed, and summarizes the findings of the survey.

“It’s good to get the feedback of the people who are actually experiencing the program,” Rau continued. “It’s really helpful to see how the changes in the programs and policies that are being implemented are affecting people on the ground, and I think it will give a good idea for how successful some of these things are - things that have changed since the last accreditation visit.

“Any time (you) give the students a chance to voice their feedback is good.”

For Rau, the opportunity to help with the ISA was one he couldn’t turn down. After having been one of the class reps during his first year at the CoM, he was worried that between his schoolwork and personal life – which included qualifying for a triathlon in Mexico – he wouldn’t have time to be a part of the council.

“I kind of missed being involved in some of the student government activities,” he said. “And this was the perfect opportunity to get feedback from my peers and colleagues, and report back to the college and accreditors about it.”

And the work done by both Rau and Dickinson was not only important in terms of accreditation, but impressive in the fact that they managed to recruit 90 per cent of the medical students to write the survey, despite the fact that most surveys at the CoM have a completion rate closer to 30 per cent. CACMS recommends a minimum participation rate of 70 per cent, and if that’s not achieved then they require the college to re-survey.

“The input of the students and the effort being put into it by the students is absolutely critical for the accreditation process and improving the undergraduate program,” Kevin Siebert, the CoM’s accreditation specialist stressed. “The survey provides a comprehensive picture of the students’ perception of their medical school. And (Rau and Dickinson) have been absolutely brilliant. They’re sharp, articulate and are handling the additional requirements very well – they’re good leaders.”

“It’s not all about John and me,” Rau continued. “We definitely had a lot of help along the way from other students, who made up our subgroups and helped create the survey, to all those who completed the survey. They may not think they’re very important but they’re really important, and we could not have achieved what we have without them.”