Approval was given Thursday for a plan to address shortcomings at the University of Saskatchewan's medical school.

At a special meeting, members of the University Council — made up of students, professors, administrators and others — voted in favour of adopting a range of reforms recently proposed by school officials.

Accreditation woes

That the medical school is having problems, no one denies. The university's college of medicine is having its accreditation reviewed by a national body, which is concerned students aren't getting the help they need.

'What we're missing is the right accountability structures.'—College of Medicine vice-provost Martin Phillipson

Students, too, have raised concerns about the quality of education and the alleged shortcomings of some professors — cancelling classes and not letting them tag along enough on patient visits, for example.

Essentially, the complaints go, the professors are spending too much time treating patients and not enough time doing research and helping students.

Exam results a concern

Meanwhile, graduating students are scoring at the bottom of the pack across Canada on some measures — one of the national exams had them in 17th place of 17 medical schools.

So, two things are going on: The medical school has promised to fix some of the students' concerns in the short term and hopes a major restructuring of the college will ensure lasting solutions.

The plan, approved by the University Council, will see three vice-deans appointed to oversee changes that will shift the focus from patient care to teaching and research.

"What we're missing is the right accountability structures," College of Medicine vice-provost Martin Phillipson said, prior to the vote. "This is a big challenge."

Faculty of 1,000 doctors

Another big change will involve bringing more of the province's doctors into the university. Right now, about 300 faculty members teach, do clinical work and research, but the plan calls for creation of a province-wide faculty of about 1,000 doctors to share more of the duties on campus.

Phillipson promised student concerns about professors who don't show up to class, or cancel classes without rescheduling will be fixed in the next term.

"If we can achieve that vision, we should be able to address accreditation concerns, our students' academic performance and our research productivity," said Dr. Tom Wilson, who chairs the College of Medicine's faculty council.

Months of debate

The restructuring process has been fraught with controversy over the past several months.

An earlier version of the plan drew passionate opposition from many professors and students and was blocked at an unprecedented meeting of people from across the university.

That prompted officials to go back to the drawing board and create the blueprint that was approved Thursday.