03/22/2012 01:59 EDT | Updated 05/22/2012 05:12 EDT

Saskatchewan's only medical school gets probation warning to shape up

SASKATOON - Saskatchewan's medical school is being warned to shape up or be put on probation.

The committee that accredits Canada's medical schools has sent a warning letter to the University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine.

"This action indicates that there are areas of non-compliance that will, if not corrected promptly, seriously compromise the ability of the faculty to deliver a quality medical education program," wrote the Committee on Accreditation of Canadian Medical Schools.

The letter was dated July 2011, but was only now made public on the CBC Saskatchewan news website.

It notes that the warning of probation is confidential and said the school is not required to notify students.

Dr. William Albritton, dean of the college, said in an interview Thursday that faculty and students were told about the letter.

There are 130 standards applied to medical schools. Albritton said a fact-finding visit last year found the college is "weak or deficient" on 10 standards.

"The weaknesses were that our faculty didn't provide timely feedback to the students. You're expected to do this within a couple of weeks of the ending of the rotation," said Albritton.

"And busy people in a busy practice tend to delay those kinds of things. They don't see them as being quite as important as they actually are."

Albritton said instructors getting written standardized teaching and grading objectives is a problem. There's also concern around adequate student space for study, lounge and lockers at the Regina campus.

He said the school will deal with the 10 outstanding issues by next February.

It's not the first time the college has been in trouble. It was placed under probation in 2002 and stayed that way until 2006.

The latest warning drew criticism from the Opposition NDP.

NDP critic Cam Broten asked Advanced Education Minister Rob Norris why the government didn't make the information public.

"This is an issue that's happened under his watch and the question is why has he kept it a secret until now," Broten said.

"Everyone in Saskatchewan loves the college of medicine because it does play such an important role in the province when it comes to the delivery of health care. That's why people are concerned and that's why people deserve to know what is going on."

The Saskatchewan Party used to criticize the NDP because the college was under probation when New Democrats were in power.

Transcripts show that in March 2011, Health Minister Don McMorris said in the legislature that the province was "in threat of losing the college of medicine completely here in Saskatchewan under their watch. That will never happen again, Mr. Speaker."

Norris said at the time that the government was working to ensure medical students didn't see the college on probation again.

Documents provided by the government Thursday show that Norris learned of the probation warning letter last summer and wrote to University of Saskatchewan President Peter MacKinnon seeking an action plan.

"As you no doubt appreciate, the letter is troubling and causes me grave concern, particularly given this government's significant and continued support for the college of medicine," wrote Norris.

Norris said the school is making progress on the issues.

"The standard and status of the college of medicine has not changed. And so to ensure that there is public confidence in the college and with its progress, that work was taken at a working level," he said.

Norris said the government may give updates on how well the college is doing.

"What we don't want to do is cause unnecessary alarm," he said.

Albritton said people shouldn't worry about the quality of education and doctors being taught at the school.

"The real proof is in the pudding right. Our students are highly sought after for residency training programs. We're enormously successful both in recruiting students into our programs in July, as well as placing our students in the programs of their choice," he said.

"The quality of education is outstanding."