Osteopathic medical students get involved in the accreditation process


In order to offer a program that leads to the degree of Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, all osteopathic medical schools must go through the accreditation process with the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation, or COCA. The process involves both self-studies and site visits, and the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine is due for both types of evaluation this year.

Traditionally, medical students are involved in the accreditation in two primary ways: They interact with the site review team during their visit, and they participate in a survey about their medical education experience. But this year, the college has rethought what student engagement can look like. Under the guidance of Kirsten Waarala, associate dean for medical education and Katherine Ruger, associate dean for admission and student life, the newly formed Student Liaison Board of Accreditation, or SLBA, represents students from all four classes and all three College of Osteopathic Medicine sites.

The board serves as a communication channel between students and the administration to ensure a free flow of information and feedback about the process.

“The board empowers the student body to think about our accreditation standards and how the college meets them,” Waarala said. “It’s really meant to be collaborative with the students playing a more integral part in accreditation and planning for accreditation review.”

Members of the board are nominated by their classmates, with Polo Kostecki, a rising third year medical student, serving as the board’s chair. When the board first formed, the 12 members chose which parts of accreditation they wanted to help with. Megan Carrillo, a recently graduated fourth year student, chose to be involved in the committees on student services and research.

“We looked at the results from the last COCA survey that the college did to see where students felt there needed to be an improvement,” Carrillo said. One opportunity they identified was making research opportunities more available at the East Lansing campus, as well as helping students understand and access existing research opportunities they might not have known about at the time of the last survey.

Some of the ideas the committee came up with include creating a research hub where professors from any campus can post the projects they're working on, so students can reach out directly, along with putting together clearer guidance on how students can move forward with their own research project ideas. Setting those initiatives into motion is something the board is currently working on in collaboration with the administration, Carrillo said.

Another way the board gets the student body more involved in accreditation is by updating them on improvements made since the last survey, which was administered in 2019.

“Especially during COVID, it's hard to know about all the changes that have been made, especially to the physical buildings themselves,” said Sydney Victoria Ohl, who just completed her first year as a medical student and serves as the vice chair of the SLBA. To help solve this uncertainty, the board created a document for the student body detailing all the recent upgrades to be aware of.

When it comes to getting accurate student survey results, awareness is key.

“Looking at the results from the last survey and digging around to see what we could do to help opened my eyes to a lot of things I didn't know MSU offered,” Carrillo said.

She learned the college listened to what students said last time around and made a lot of changes. She also discovered quite a few updates had been made at the other campuses she hasn’t visited since earlier in her medical school career.

Having students actively involved in the accreditation process benefits the student body as a whole, Ohl added. “Accreditation helps to ensure students have the same standardized education throughout all med schools, and part of that is making sure students across different campuses all have an equal opportunity.”

From Waarala’s perspective, there’s also an advantage for the students who participate in the board themselves.

“This is essentially the kind of experience they might have in residency, participating in what's called a Clinical Learning Environment Review visit. And once they are in practice, there are transferable skill sets into quality assurance, credentialing and peer review. This kind of work, in terms of reviewing compliance with standards, is a great professional development opportunity for the students in addition to providing service to the college and to their fellow students.”

As for what’s ahead for the SLBA, they’re preparing for the site visit taking place in September. But their work won’t be done when this year’s accreditation process comes to a close, Waarala said.

“The board isn’t meant to be something we do just this year because we have a review. This will be an ongoing entity within the college that will ensure that the student voice is strongly represented in the accreditation process.”