State to list ‘disapproved’ Caribbean medical schools

By Carolyne Park (Contact)

LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas State Medical Board is developing a list of foreign medical schools considered so poor in quality that their graduates won’t be allowed to practice medicine in the Natural State.
After more than eight months of consideration, board members Friday agreed to follow the Medical Board of California’s list of “approved” and “disapproved” schools as its main guide in deciding which Caribbean medical schools will be blacklisted in Arkansas.
The list of disapproved schools will help the board “weed out” inadequate doctors and prevent them from practicing in Arkansas, board member Dr. ****** Beck said.
“What we’re trying to do is protect the people of Arkansas the best way we know how,” Beck said.
While U.S. medical schools must meet national accreditation standards, some other countries don’t have similar standards.State medical boards responsible for regulating and licensing physicians are left to determine which schools have credible programs, but most don’t have the resources to evaluate schools themselves.
California’s board is the exception, said Dr. Trent P. Pierce, chairman of the Arkansas board.
“California is the only state that does its own site reviews of medical schools, and its list in many cases is the gold standard for which schools [state medical boards] will allow and not allow,” he said.
Several states use California’s list as a guide, including Vermont, Alaska and New Mexico.
“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” Beck said.
There are more than 1,800 foreign medical schools, and about 25 percent of doctors practicing in the U.S. today graduated from foreign medical schools, according to the Federation of State Medical Boards.
Arkansas’ medical board doesn’t track the number of doctors in the state who graduated from medical schools outside the United States.
The Educational Commission for Foreign Medical School Graduates, which evaluates foreign medical school graduates to see if they’re qualified to enter U.S. residency or fellowship programs, approved 10,172 people last year.
The California board, which has had a formal evaluation process for more than a decade, has a list of 10 “disapproved” medical schools, including St. Matthew’s University on Grand Cayman, Spartan Health Sciences University on St. Lucia and University of Health Sciences Antigua in St. John’s.
California also has a list of more than 300 “recognized” medical schools in countries worldwide whose applicants will be considered for a medical license there.
Arkansas’ initial disapproved list will include only medical schools in the Caribbean because the state gets a lot of applications from graduates of schools there, said Bill Trice, board attorney. Schools from other countries may be added later.
“The information we’re gathering now is focused on our applicant pool,” Trice said.
Any Caribbean school that isn’t recognized by California, or that is on that state’s disapproved list, will be on Arkansas’ list. A school may also be included on Arkansas’ list if it is disapproved by medical boards in at least two other states.
Arkansas also won’t consider licensing applicants from medical schools whose curriculum is Internet-based or involves distance learning.
The board plans to present the list to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences by July 1 so it can be considered as faculty members review applicants for medical residency programs, said ***** Cryer, the state board’s executive secretary.
In the future, the state board will publish a list by June 15 each year. Schools can be removed from the list if they become approved in California or in at least two other states.
UAMS officials estimate about 20 percent of its current 590 residents statewide are graduates of foreign medical schools.
On Thursday, the board voted to allow exceptions for people already enrolled in a UAMS residency program as of Aug. 1. Those doctors will be considered for a medical license in Arkansas even if their medical school ends up on the disapproved list if they meet other board requirements.
Any other current or future applicants from disapprovedschools won’t be considered for a medical license in Arkansas, according to Friday’s vote.
All foreign medical school graduates must show they have served three years as an intern or resident in an accredited postgraduate medical program in the United States or have completed one year as an intern or resident in an accredited postgraduate medical program in the United States and be enrolled in an accredited postgraduate program in Arkansas.
Board member Dr. Omar T. Atiq said he hopes Arkansas will consider adding non-Caribbean schools to its disapproved list, to distinguish between reputable and disreputable schools in other countries. He wants to ensure applicants from throughout the world are held to the samestandards.
“There are schools elsewhere in the world that we know nothing about,” he said. “And there are some pretty darn useless schools out there.”
This article was published Saturday, June 7, 2008. Front Section, Pages 1, 5 on 06/07/2008 __________________