Probation status sparks changes to graduate medical education program

Jada Roth, Senior Staff Reporter

Maiya Tate

Tulane University School of Medicine administrators are making a number of changes after the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education placed Tulane’s residency program on probation earlier this month. 

The ACGME’s decision comes nine months after Dr. Princess Dennar filed a federal lawsuit against Tulane University after witnessing multiple instances of discrimination and injustice against not only herself, but also Black colleagues and patients. At the time, Dennar was the Director of the Internal Medicine-Pediatrics, also known as Med-Peds, residency program. Dennar is the first Black woman to hold the position of program director at Tulane’s medical school. She has held that position since 2008

The lawsuit specifically names Dr. Jeffrey Wiese, senior associate dean for graduate medical education, and Dr. Lee Hamm, senior vice president and dean of the School of Medicine, as facilitators of a hostile, gender and race-based work environment.

As chairman of the internal medicine department at the time, Hamm interviewed Dennar in 2008 for the directorship. During her interview, Hamm told Dennar that he feared changing the face of Tulane’s medical school and that medical students would not look favorably upon a residency program with a Black director. 

According to Dennar, during her time at Tulane’s medical school, she saw more instances of discrimination. She voiced her concerns about the unfair treatment of residents, unequal distribution of educational experiences and the lack of authority given to her as program director. Dennar’s advocacy, however, was met with retaliation — her authority, job responsibilities and access to resources, among others, were all diminished.

In February — four months after suing Tulane —  Dennar was removed from her position as Med-Peds director. Following public outcry, Tulane offered Dennar conditional reinstatement, which she declined. In an interview with WDSU, Dennar described the ordeal as “the most traumatic experience that I’ve experienced in my life.”

As for the reasons behind the ACGME’s decision, Hamm cites “issues of confidentiality” in an email to the medical school’s community. Hamm listed actions the medical school plans to take to reinstate its ACGME accreditation, including the establishment of a professionalism task force, reduction of resident workloads and the promise of more frequent internal reviews. 

These initiatives “will bring about rapid, but lasting, systemic changes that will improve the learning and working environment for our current and incoming residents,” Mike Strecker, assistant vice president for communications, said.

The School of Medicine has also employed global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright to evaluate the operations and oversight of the graduate medical education program. Consulting firm Sensei Change Associates will offer recommendations for improved diversity, equity and inclusion efforts after they finish conducting focus groups and individual interviews with students, faculty, residents and staff.

The ACGME’s decision only affects Tulane’s residency program and not the medical education program, which is accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, a separate entity. Even during this probationary period, all School of Medicine residency programs remain accredited. Hamm has framed the ACGME’s decision as an “opportunity to enhance [the School of Medicine’s] educational programs and become a stronger academic community.” The ACGME plans to revisit in January 2022 for further review. 

Strecker acknowledges the continued work needed to increase equity, diversity and inclusion throughout the Tulane community. “Although we have made progress in these areas in recent years, we recognize the need to expand and accelerate our existing efforts to build the kind of community our students, faculty and staff expect and deserve,” Strecker said.

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