Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
The University of New Mexico School of Medicine’s neurosurgery residency program is going to lose its accreditation next summer, and eight resident physicians in the program will have to leave UNM to complete their training at an accredited program.
The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education is withdrawing UNM’s accreditation for the program effective June 30, according to the council’s website. UNM is the only neurosurgery residency program in the country to lose its credentials this school year, according to the website.
UNM will have to pay the resident doctors’ salaries even after they leave UNM to finish their training, said Dr. Michael Richards, vice chancellor for clinical affairs at UNM Health System.
Alex Sanchez, a spokeswoman for UNM Health Sciences, said two of the 10 resident doctors in the program will complete their training by the time the school loses its accreditation. UNM is helping the eight remaining doctors find accredited programs.
Those eight doctors have between one and six years left in their residencies. Their annual salary and benefits will be about $75,000 to $80,000 per year, Richards said.
He said the loss of accreditation won’t affect the medical services offered in the UNM Health System.
“The most important thing is this has absolutely no effect on patients at all,” Sanchez said.
She said the hospital has started to hire certified nurse practitioners and physician assistants for non-operative clinical care to patients.
Richards said there will be no change to the hospital’s designation as a Level 1 Trauma Center. That designation requires things like 24/7 access to general surgeons and prompt access to specialists like neurosurgeons. UNMH is the only such hospital in the state.
Why is the distinction being taken away?
“There’s not one reason,” Richards said. “Our patient volume is skewed toward high-complexity, emergency and trauma patients. Which in some aspects for training programs, that is outstanding. It’s an outstanding educational experience. But the issue is we don’t have the ability to build out the full portfolio of community-based neurosurgical services to give those training doctors experience in other kinds of areas.”
Richards said that faculty turnover in the department factored into accreditation, which mandates there be enough mentors for the young physicians.
The program had been placed on probation before the accreditation was withdrawn after a site visit during the summer, Richards said.
“The educational experience wasn’t as broad as it needed to be,” he said.
Richards said hospital officials are hopeful that making some infrastructure improvements and other changes can help the medical school re-earn the accreditation needed for the program.
Susan White, a spokeswoman for the accrediting council, said the agency keeps most of the information about medical programs confidential. It’s up to the particular program to explain why it lost its status, she said. ACGME accredits 60 other medical training programs in the School of Medicine, Richards said.
Hospital officials are hopeful the new chief of neurosurgery can restore the neurosurgery residency program, he said.
Dr. Meic Schmidt will start the job in February 2020. He is currently chair of Neurosurgery at New York Medical College and director of the Department of Neurosurgery at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, New York.
“We are extremely pleased to have an experienced physician of Dr. Schmidt’s stature joining us,” said Dr. Paul Roth, UNM’s chancellor for health sciences, CEO of the UNM Health System and dean of the UNM School of Medicine. “With his superb surgical and managerial skills, he is uniquely suited to lead our program.”